In a post-apocalyptic scenario, there may come a time when our trading and bartering goes beyond the simple “I’ll take six eggs for your three potatoes,” and moves into a more commercial setting. This could be because society is attempting to rebuild and normalize, or it could be because our local survival groups and communities have reached their maximum density and require supplies and skills that are no longer available within the immediate vicinity.
Because of this, it may become beneficial for you and your group to establish a trading post, where both locals and travelers can gather supplies and information. They can also potentially post their skill sets and begin building careers along the way. No matter how prepared you believe you, your family, or your group may be, it will always be useful to have a hand in what’s going on in the community. Opening up a trading post can also be a great source of intel, as hopefully, grateful neighbors will be willing to not only trade goods and services but information as well. It is also a much safer endeavor than shifting to a traveling salesman model of commerce, as it allows you to build a certain level of stability that your future clientele can count on for their needs. This is similar to the times of the gold rush, where shopkeepers anticipated the needs of all of the settlers willing to risk their lives for a few minuscule specks, and opened up locations in remote towns, ready to provide the tools necessary for any dreamer with cash in hand.
First, it’s important to choose a spot that is away from your main base of operations. You want the location to be far enough as not to give away your home’s location, but close enough that it will not unduly burden you to travel there. You also want to assess the location’s tactical value. Can it be defended with a minimum number of people? Is there a safe way to escape if necessary? Can you protect the escape route? You’ll also want to use the intel that you’ve already gathered about neighboring areas to determine if the soon to be Prepper Costco is going to be on the main trade route and will get the necessary traffic so that products can be moved on a somewhat regular basis. Just like in today’s retail, nobody wants to sit on products for too long because they are too far geographically from a good customer base.
Another point to consider will be the permanency of this post. You could seek out a plot of land and put up a traditional storefront, or you could follow a more “pop up” style of commerce and announce a meeting place for everyone at a specific date and time. Some of this will depend on just how far down the post-apocalypse rabbit hole we’re going with the circumstances. If the plan is to rebuild society from the ground up, then maybe being the head of the local mercantile store is where you want to be. This affords semi-consistent access to supplies brought by others and allows you to be the center of attention and knowledge for the local community. However, not all popularity is a good thing, and if everyone knows you’ve got the goods, you may open yourself up as a potential target. Hence the following considerations are focused on security.
Much like you’d do for a regular brick and & mortar store pre-apocalypse, make sure to take security seriously. Assuming we’re working in the most austere of circumstances, you won’t be able to simply rely on that video camera doorbell to tell you who’s on the property. For this reason, make sure that you’ve done a full perimeter sweep, and noted all your avenues of approach to make sure you address each one. Remember the 4 Ds: Deter, Detect, Delay, and Defend. You’ll want to deter future marauders from getting at your stuff, detect them before they can get the jump on you, delay any possible attack scenarios, and of course, make sure you’re able to defend yourself and property if necessary. Ideally, you’d also have a security team assigned to the post, setting up an overwatch area and training on how best to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the bartering/trade operations.
When it comes to inventory, limit what you take to and from the post location and your home location. They say that the most dangerous time for gun dealers at a gun show is during setup and breakdown, as this is when there is a lot of merchandise moving around and money at stake, and in the chaos that is trying to move materials, items can get lost to sticky fingers. For this reason, try to only stock basic staples at your post location, and make sure that any particularly expensive items (expensive being relative to the currency at the time) are safeguarded with additional measures.
While all of the above works if you are only selling physical products, what happens when what you’re selling is a particular skill? For example, what happens to future tradesmen, those who have the knowledge and experience in a specialized field, like mechanics or doctors? It’s essential to consider these individuals as well. It may become pertinent to set up a “job board” of sorts, allowing people to advertise their services alongside the physical items available at the post.
Many a prepping expert has predicted that silver and gold will be the currency of the future. This may or may not be true, but regardless of what we actually begin using as our future coin, it will be imperative that the trading post has a safe space to store all of this money. There are a couple of schools of thought for this. The first is that all of the currency should be stored in one location, but make sure that it’s the safest location possible. The easy visual for this is a large safe or other locked cabinet. The second is that the money should be split up and stored in various locations so that the loss of one cache doesn’t affect the others. The decision is ultimately up to you, the person running the post, and will most likely come down to your particular location and what it offers in terms of physical setup, geography, and your available man and firepower.
If you’re going to have “salespeople” at your post, then you’ll have to come up with a suitable wage for them. Will you be paying in currency, or will you barter additional supplies for their labor? Will you be looking for the same types of skills that you would have looked for pre SHTF? Not sure how many people will have resumes handy, so how will you determine who is the most capable of helping you become the next Rockefeller? This is where intel on local groups and families may come in handy, to help you decide who you’re going to trust. Also, remember that internal theft and embezzlement is a huge crime at the best of times, what will happen if the trading post becomes the only source for certain goods? Will the need for survival supplies outweigh the loyalty to the post owner/manager? If you have to “fire” someone, how will that affect the security of the post itself? These are questions that will need answers before you hire your first employee.
Finally, if you are the post owner/creator, you will have to make an executive decision on whether you, the sole practitioner, are going to set the “prices” for items, or whether you want to operate more like a modern-day consignment store and allow each person responsible for bringing in the items to set their own pricing. There are pros and cons to each form of doing business. If you set the prices and manage the record keeping, there’s something to be said for consistency in business values, and your customers can expect pricing to remain the same from week to week and month to month. However, this can be burdensome from a record-keeping standpoint, and can also make the post owner the subject of an angry customer’s wrath if they believe they are not getting a fair deal. On the other hand, if you were to allow individuals to set their own prices, then it leaves the post owner to merely be the keeper of the things, to simply collect and then distribute currency as appropriate. The problem will be if one customer believes another person wrongs them, or if someone believes that the post owner is skimming off the top before sending out payment. How will you build and maintain trust to prevent this? Are you willing to be the judge if there’s a dispute among customers, or will you tell them to simply take it outside and work it out like two kids in the schoolyard? These are the types of policies that you’ll want to attempt to draft up before things get out of hand.
Not sure where to start on building a bartering post plan? Head out to a local market this weekend and see how commercial organizers have done it. A farmer’s market, flea market, or other organized public gatherings all have similar challenges to a bartering post. They all require security, vehicle traffic flow, foot traffic flow, vendor spots, etc. Ultimately, remember that in bartering, as in all business transactions, your word is your bond. If you stand by your principles and stick to what you promise, your trading post can thrive and flourish. But if you succumb to societal pressures and begin to work without integrity, then it may be more than just your business that suffers.