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Sewickley Academy seniors learning bartering skills through trade-up challenge

| Thursday, June 9, 2016, 3:57 p.m.
Sewickley Academy seniors Louis Smidt (from left), Don Gex and Max Gillespie stand for a photo at the school with an Xbox, controller and the video game Madden 16—the items they currently have from their senior project where they have done a series of non-monetary trades to show that different people find value in different things Monday, June 6, 2016.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Sewickley Academy seniors Louis Smidt (from left), Don Gex and Max Gillespie stand for a photo at the school with an Xbox, controller and the video game Madden 16—the items they currently have from their senior project where they have done a series of non-monetary trades to show that different people find value in different things Monday, June 6, 2016.

From half-dead batteries to a treadmill and an Xbox, three Sewickley Academy seniors are honing their bartering and business skills through a graduation project.

Don Gex, Max Gillespie and Louis Smidt, all 18, have been working for a few weeks to trade up. The trio's lofty goal, as Gillespie puts it, is to end up bartering for an item with “four wheels and an engine.”

The group started with AAA batteries from Gex's school calculator, which they traded for a used bottle of Wite-out.

In recent days, they've bartered for an Xbox gaming system and a New York Rangers jersey.

While the official portion of the two-week project ends today, the guys say they plan to continue bartering this summer.

“We're trying to spread the word as much as possible,” Gillespie said. “With a project like this, the success or failure is determined by the volume of people you pass.”

Their project is similar to a 2005 effort by Kyle MacDonald, whose One Red Paperclip Project started with the Canadian trading a red paperclip and eventually bartering for a house in Kipling, Saskatchewan.

The Sewickley Academy group say they've learned about marketing, sales pitches and doing research, along with patience.

“The treadmill is a good example of the nature of our project and what we're looking for,” Gillespie said. “We got it from a friend whose family is moving. I think they looked at it and thought it was a cool project (we) are doing. So they traded it for two lawn chairs.

“It was a reasonably large jump in value. The treadmill was used so it wasn't a crazy jump. They couldn't transport it. But they could use more lawn chairs.”

The road to trading up hasn't been easy.

Part of the challenge for Gex are “days where we have an item and we don't have anybody interested.”

Smidt agreed.

“There is a pressure to move the item as fast as we can,” he said.

While items carry a cash value, Gillespie said, for them, it's more about whether an item can be traded easily.

“We don't get to do a lot of window shopping,” he said. “It's not even if something has a higher cash value, it's if something has a higher desirability.”

Smidt said he's liked seeing the value others place on items.

“It really shows you the value different people put on things,” he said. “We have traded with people who have needed something but they weren't thinking about what it's worth.”

Gillespie agreed.

“It's an interesting take on ‘one man's trash is another man's treasure,'” he said.

Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rcherry@tribweb.com.

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