When Tom Salinsky goes to the dentist, veterinarian or mechanic, he pays in roses, carnations and daffodils. Not on the spot, but indirectly, through the ancient — and increasingly popular — practice of bartering.
As a member of Florida Barter, the owner of DJ's Florist in Clearwater sells flower arrangements for barter credits that he can spend on goods and services offered by other members. He also posts free bartering ads on Craigslist.
"I have bartered just about everything you can think of,'' Salinsky said. "My motto is, 'If you're going to buy something, check barter first.' ''
Salinsky is among the growing ranks of people who are bartering to boost business and get what they need without exchanging money.
In lean economic times, the concept is booming.
Florida Barter, which acts as a go-between for 1,600 business clients, says new membership is up 30 percent over last year and trade volume is up 12 percent. Members pay a one-time fee to join and a commission on every purchase.
"While a lot of businesses are slow, we're seeing an increase, and it's mainly due to the economy and people looking for creative ways to do business,'' said Scott Whitmer, president and CEO of Florida Barter, which started in 1982 and has 450 members in the Tampa Bay area.
Other people are trying trading on their own. Bartering ads on Craigslist have doubled in the past year, drawing tens of thousands of posts each month. On average, the Tampa Bay area gets 100 or more bartering ads daily. Requests cover everything from tattoos to tires to tree cutting. Many ask for something specific. ("I have a side-by-side fridge. I need a TV.'') Others are open-ended. ("Residential contractor will trade services for ?")
Plenty of the posts are downright peculiar. Like Leyla Aykin's recent ad about needing someone to shelter and take care of her two cats, Zeeb and Kiki, for up to a year while she goes to Turkey. In exchange, she would provide cat food and litter and two or three pieces of her original artwork.
"I'm going out on a limb here,'' she wrote in the post, "but I figure that this might be worth a shot.''
The 23-year-old from Tampa got a few responses but none of them serious. She finally found a friend to take her cats but hasn't given up on bartering.
"I believe it's going to become more commonplace or I hope it would,'' she said. "I think it's a great idea.''
Salinsky, the florist, said getting goods and services on trade means he doesn't have to put out the cash. It also allows him to give employees morale-boosting perks. For instance, last year during the Christmas rush, he brought in a massage therapist.
Bartering works best for people with idle time and excess inventory, said Dominic Berardi, who runs Florida Barter's Largo office. Take a hotel. Every empty room means lost revenue. But fill it with a customer paying through trade, and you can pay for advertising, equipment or other needs.
"People are seeing their cash flow slow down,'' said Berardi, who's gone to Europe on bartering. "Everybody's being more conservative with their money. This gives them another opportunity to make a sale.''
Ron Hill of Apollo Beach posts ads on Craigslist about every week, usually with great success. His best so far? An Honda Accord he traded for an RV that sleeps six, perfect for traveling with his family.
This week, Hill advertised to trade or sell a Las Vegas slot machine, generating about 30 inquiries within a few hours. Offers ranged from a pickup truck to furniture to a motorcycle. A few said they would pay the $1,800 asking price.
Hill planned to see what other offers come in.
"That's the fun about bartering,'' he said. "I get to pick whatever I can use the most. It works. People really do it.''