Last December, Hal Berger took his wife, Gayle, and 5-year-old daughter, Sydney, to see the Christmas lights in McAdenville. Sydney brought along a group of her closest 5-year-old friends to enjoy the holiday fun.
Everyone enjoyed the evening that might have been mired in stress from tangled traffic headaches except for one thing: they went in a stretch limousine.
"I would have never hired a limousine for that," said Berger, who owns the Berger Law Group in SouthPark.
But as a member of the Carolina Trade Exchange, a year-old bartering business, Berger was able to pay for the evening with trade dollars he accumulated by providing legal services to other CTE members.
In addition to the limousine ride, Berger, 48, has bartered for wine, massages for his wife and computer services for his office. He's given trade dollars to friends and clients. Since he began bartering last year, he has seen his own business grow and has met folks from all walks of life. And judging by the broad smile on his face, he's having fun doing it.
Carolina Trade Exchange is the brainchild of John Kucera, 48, who worked for US Airways in sales and marketing for 18 years before heeding the advice of his mother to start a bartering business in Charlotte. After working with a mentor at the Arizona Trade Exchange, Kucera opened an office on Independence Boulevard near Matthews.
The exchange now covers about 50 members so far.
"I want to be known as the trade guy," said Kucera. "Bartering is a great way to differentiate your business."
Kucera said CTE recruits folks who have a business or a skill to become members, and in turn they can negotiate with other members who need their service or merchandise.
"Value has to be established by both parties - that's very important," said Kucera. "Both parties need to feel comfortable with the deal. Deals are negotiated as full retail to full retail."
Both parties report the deal to CTE, where all records are kept, and the work is completed. At that point, trade dollars are moved between accounts. At the end of every month, a statement of all activity is sent to each member. Trade dollars can be used to obtain any member's services, and CTE has scrip, which looks like big Monopoly money, for members to share with non-members.
If you think bartering is a way to slip through the cracks at the IRS, however, think again: CTE trade dollars are taxed the same as income, and you are supplied with a 1099 form at tax time each year. CTE makes its money by charging barterers 12 percent on all trades.
CTE so far has attracted a cross-section of businesses and services. In addition to attorneys, CTE represents businesses such as heating and air conditioning, dry cleaners, jewelers, dentists, general contractors, photographers, spas and salons, tree service, house cleaners and optometrists, to name a few.
Matthew Galimi, 30, owner of Best Tek Support in Matthews, has been bartering with Berger for several months. Galimi takes care of IT support for Berger's law office.
"I can schedule to work for Hal during what might have been a down time for me," said Galimi. "Besides earning trade dollars, I have made other cash job contacts through working in Hal's office."
Berger also benefits from the trade.
"I know the importance of having new clients. They are the lifeblood of any business," he said. "And joining CTE has given me the opportunity to meet new people and other small-business owners. I'd have to pay $50,000 a year to a PR firm to get the kind of exposure I'm getting through bartering."
All business aside, Berger overflows with enthusiasm when he talks about all the trade-dollar deals he's received.
"The practice of law is complicated and very serious. I have just had so much fun with bartering," he said.