October 2, 2022


Who is Business

‘Try bartering to kickstart your business’

3 min read

Walk down London’s Oxford Street and Regent Street and you will see big advertising screens in the windows of many shops, flashing out advertisements. The firm responsible for installing a lot of these screens, and designing the ads on them, is called inurface – a multi-million pound company.

“They’re electronic posters,” says chief executive Josh Bunce. “But they can display a range of advertisements and messages in the same space.”

The deals that inurface has landed with retail giants like Boots and The Body Shop has made it one of the leading lights in the UK’s advertising industry.

It’s a long way from the firm’s beginnings in 2008 in Bristol.

To hit the big time in the capital, Josh knew he had to look like a prestigious advertising company to impress potential clients – and that meant having offices in the heart of London’s West End. The problem was affording the rent. For that, he resorted to barter.

“We wanted to be in the heart of the retail land, which is obviously Regent Street, around Oxford Street,” says Josh. “We didn’t really have the budget at the time to afford the kind of office that we wanted and the space we wanted to bring our clients into, so we bartered with the landlord.”

Josh worked out a deal with a central London office rental company. He offered to install video screens for free throughout their office space. In return, they agreed to let his company off paying six months’ rent.

“What we managed to do was negotiate. Basically, putting AV equipment into their office space, from large touchscreens in the meeting rooms to video walls in the reception to enhance the whole space.”

Taking that office space in one of London’s most prestigious areas worked its magic. The company, which had started life installing video screens in coffee shops in the West Country, suddenly looked like a major player in the industry.

Inurface now turns over £32m a year, and other big name clients include Sports Direct, Chelsea football club and Delta Airlines.

a truck on a city street: The company even has advertising screens on the sides of bin lorries

© Inurface
The company even has advertising screens on the sides of bin lorries

“It was a bit of smoke and mirrors, this way of getting a prestigious office address,” says Josh. “But in advertising, it’s essential to look the part. And we wouldn’t have been able to do it without making a barter deal with the landlord.”

He recommends that other start-ups also try bartering their services with landlords or business suppliers if they are strapped for cash.

“Bartering goes back to the Stone Age, before money was invented,” he says. “But there’s no reason you shouldn’t try it today. If you’re a stationery company, you could have done a similar deal. If you were a telecoms company, you could have done a similar deal.”

Many companies have sprung up that specialise in brokering such barter deals amongst companies and Josh is striking a deal with one of them to exchange his services with other business partners.

“It’s always worth asking your landlord or suppliers if they will barter products or services,” says Josh. “They can only say no, so why not try it? That would be my advice.”

Read more CEO Secrets here.