Trade First

Fred Detwiler serves as the president of Trade First, a unique organization that helps businesses around the country. What started as a small operation out of an office in Warren, Michigan has turned into an expansive business network with offices in Michigan, Ohio, and Florida. Trade First helps business owners through a trading system in which owners are able to get the things they need to build or expand their business without spending actual cash.

Detwiler first began bartering in 1978 while working for a rock and roll radio station, using a one-on-one trade system with local business.

“We would trade radio advertising with businesses like restaurants,” Detwiler says, “but then the business wouldn’t necessarily need more radio time; they needed menus printed or flowers for the tables and the radio station couldn’t provide that, so the one-on-one trade didn’t work.”

While there were major benefits to the one-on-one trade, Detwiler realized that it only worked if both businesses were able to provide what the other wanted, if the timing was right, and “if the moon was in the right phase,” he adds with a laugh. He then joined a friend who had a bartering company that was beginning to grow. “It was like a lightbulb went on and I said, ‘Wow, this is a great idea.’”

Under the name Michigan Trade Exchange, the company first opened its doors in 1978. The challenge was creating an industry by providing a vehicle through which clients could sell excess products and receive the things they needed for their business without using cash. To do so, the company established a currency called trade credits, which allows companies to buy the necessitates for their business without using actual cash. These trade credits can be used for a variety of things; they can pay for restaurants, be used to purchase flights and hotel rooms, and even acquire tickets for sporting events like the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings. The system also enables businesses to take extra inventory that they have been unable to sell and turn it into revenue, either by using trade or by gaining new business from referrals.

Since its beginnings in 1978, Trade First has maintained clients that signed up with them that first year and has gained thousands of new clients all over the nation since then. Today, the company has over 10,000 clients, all of whom make connections to help their businesses grow. Although Trade First helps companies become more profitable by obtaining the things they need while keeping cash in the bank, Detwiler cites the gaining of new business as the key to get people excited about joining Trade First.

“Members go home and they tell their neighbors, ‘Hey, I got these wonderful mushrooms at Better Health’ and that creates a referral. The neighbors, who may not be Trade First members, then say, ‘Let’s go try that out’ and the store gets new business,” Detwiler explains.

Trade First membership also gives companies an advantage in a market where online shopping is running rampant. In a world where small businesses and retail shops are closing regularly, businesses have to provide something else that customers don’t get from shopping online. Detwiler says that out-servicing is the way to combat online shopping. The personal service that brick and mortar businesses offer helps them grow and succeed in this time. “That’s the most exciting part,” Detwiler says. “If you’re in business, you want to get business.”

This method of business has also allowed businesses and their employees to thrive during recessions and financially tough times. With more businesses utilizing trade, owners retain more money, which in turn can allow them to reward employees with cash or with trade credits towards a trip, sporting event, or dinner. Detwiler strongly believes that when employees are treated well and are happy, businesses succeed even more because all businesses are made up of people.

Trade First additionally offers a loan system, which provides an opportunity for those who want to start a new business or add an addition to their current one to gain trade credits for what they need. “The bank doesn’t give you options on how to pay back your loans,” Detwiler says, “but our members don’t pay back with cash; they pay back with trade.”

By utilizing trade, business owners are able to obtain the things they need to keep their businesses running while saving time and money.

The Michigan branch of Trade First is located at 23200 Coolidge Highway, Oak Park. Learn more at


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