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Natural Awakenings Sarasota / Manatee / Charlotte

IBE Barter Succeeds through Technology, Marketing, Leadership

Jun 01, 2014 03:05AM ● By Suzi Harkola

Barter, or trade, has served as man’s currency since the beginning of time. It’s such a simple concept: I have something of value, you want it. You have something of like value, I want it. Let’s trade!

IBE Barter in Sarasota has taken that concept to new heights. Under the leadership of Ron and Mary Unger, IBE has become a major player in the barter industry. Basing their business and growth on their combined strengths of computer technology and marketing, the Ungers have, over the past 23 years, built a network of strong, reliable companies that trade resources among themselves.

In an exclusive interview with Natural Awakenings, Ron Unger talked about the industry, the company and the importance of his family in his success.

“IBE Barter is set apart from others in several ways,” Unger says. “Perhaps most important is our technology. We are one of only six barter companies in America to use the Trade Studio computer system. It’s a $150,000 software program that includes mobile apps for iPhone, iPod, and Android, and allows our members to barter on the go. The technology allows for better service and overall cost savings. We have five people on staff, but without the technology we would need 10 more.”

And that leads to the second area that sets IBE apart: staff. Their personnel include marketing, finance, administration and, of course IT. A single phone call gets answers and quick response, and staff is available 24/7.

Third is that theirs is a brick and mortar operation, not a walking-around cell phone. “We have a building on Tamiami Trail with a big sign,” Unger explains. “People driving by might not immediately know what IBE Barter means, but when they see our ads on television or in magazines, they make a connection. The building itself is actually part of our marketing toolkit, along with bookend ads, visuals, stand-alone marketing and, of course the strongest tool of all, word of mouth.”

And fourth, although not technically “marketing,” is the company’s insistence on integrity, professionalism and outstanding service by their members. “Our members include walk-in clinics, dentists, surgeons, hotels, florists, restaurants, all areas within the construction industry, and many more.”

“I have ‘discharged’ 1800 companies because of poor performance,” Unger says, “and we have strict qualifying standards for those who come into the network. I do a 90-minute presentation and spend time with each potential business owner to determine, between the two of us, if it’s a good fit. They must have products or services of the highest quality. I won’t take in a company that doesn’t meet my standards. We are looking for quality. There is a cost to join. If potential members are taken aback, I pull out my favorite Tony Robbins quote: ‘How much more are you willing to spend to stay where you are?’”

When the Ungers began their business, most of the companies involved were mom and pop. Now IBE Barter boasts large companies while still serving the small business person.

“It’s important to remember that cash is still a component of barter,” Unger stressed. “Let’s say you order flowers on trade from Beneva Floral and are knocked out by the arrangement. You are likely to recommend that florist to a friend or relative who will then order flowers and pay cash. The participating company gets the best of both worlds.”

He and Mary started IBE in 1991, and raised four highly successful children while they were growing an equally successful business.

Unger has nothing but praise for his wife of 28 years. “Mary does things that are so generous and sometimes silly. Once we were at a restaurant, and there was a couple sitting at the table next to us. As we left, Mary pulled the server over and paid their bill, bought them dessert and a bottle of champagne and gave him a 25% tip. The server seemed a little in shock. ‘Why did you do that?’ he asked. She responded, ‘It’s their first anniversary!’ Then the server broke the bubble. ‘No ma’m,’ he said. ‘They’re on a blind date.’ We still laugh at that.

“Causes take her heart. She is very spiritual, very religious. She’s an extraordinary songwriter, and works hard by my side seven days a week, 12-18 hours a day. God’s eyes shine on her.”

His children share the spotlight. One son is head of a major hotel in San Francisco, after having worked at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota and hotels in Hawaii. His daughter is part of the business, handling much of the marketing tasks. The other two sons are highly gifted artists who exhibit their work across the country. And his grandchildren, well, let’s just say, he is in love. “They’ve been raised with a basic foundation in culture and art,” he says, “and are gifted with amazing talent.” For example, his six-year-old granddaughter plays multiple musical instruments.

It’s fitting to celebrate Father’s Day, with a man who has found success and raised success. “I am blessed in work and in family,” Unger says with pride. “I am a very lucky man.”


EBI Barter is located at 1161 N Tamiami Trail in Sarasota. Phone 941- 955-6100 or visit

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