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Detroit Free Press

In a tough economy, more businesses are turning to bartering to make ends meet.

Jason Iras, vice president of Naturalistic Landscapes in Shelby Township, said his business has increased 20% since joining TradeFirst.com two years ago.

In exchange for landscaping services, Iras said his company gets materials on trade such as mulch, trees and topsoil, maintenance on company vehicles -- even a treadmill. "We decided to give it a shot. It brings in business that we normally wouldn't get," he said. "We get a chance to do a job before our competition down the street that is not in trade."

Oak Park-based TradeFirst.com was founded 30 years ago. Then it was called Trade Exchange of America. It matches its 5,000 members in Michigan, Ohio and Florida and stretches dollars by trading services, products and meals. The business-to-business exchange is similar to consumer-oriented sites like uSwapIt.com, U-Exchange.com and Craigslist."

"Businesses in TradeFirst's member rolls are promoted to other members through ads on the Web site, newsletters, weekly faxes and in the annual membership directory", said Frederic Detwiler, founder and president. "Some of the greatest market-share advantages occur during a soft economy," he said. TradeFirst acts like a bank, keeping track of deposits and withdrawals in each member's trade account.

Matt Prentice, CEO of the Matt Prentice Restaurant Group, joined TradeFirst in 1980 and said the key to making bartering work is to make sure other businesses are giving him the same deal they would if he paid in cash. "Trade, if it is done right, can be very beneficial," Prentice said. "The key is finding the right vendors." Prentice, owner of restaurants Coach Insignia, Deli Unique and Shiraz, said he trades meals for cleaning services in his restaurants, heating and cooling work, uniforms, car washes and some advertising. "It's great for service companies because it allows you to grow your business," he said. "The economy is definitely a great reason to get into trade because it is automatically going to drive your trade."