Shops hop on the Bunz bandwagon

With launch of its BTZ cryptocurrency, Shop Local and Makers programs are the homegrown bartering platform's next frontier


This summer, I bought myself two haircuts, a couple of killer breakfast bagel sandwiches, a handmade terrazzo-print ceramic ashtray, some super-cute plant pots and maybe a dozen cups of coffee — without spending a cent or pulling out my wallet.

Like many Toronto millennials, I’m more than a little addicted to Bunz, the homegrown bartering platform that grew from an informal, locally-based Facebook group to an app-based platform boasting thousands of users.

Since its inception in 2014, Bunz has offered Torontonians a handy way to unload those books collecting dust or that weird booze left over from a party, while snagging some cool finds.

But too often, when one trader didn’t have anything in the other’s ISO (“in search of”) wish list, the trading process grinds to a halt — or, in an effort to uphold the “no cash in the zone” rule, one person will go out and buy the other a gift card.

To facilitate those blocked trades and keep that capital circulating within the Bunz system, the company launched its own “cryptocurrency,” BTZ, this spring. From there, “it seemed natural from there to partner with local businesses, so we can get more of our community going in to support local shops,” says Alanna Matysek, who heads up Bunz’s Shop Local program.

Since the launch of BTZ, the company has been gradually on-boarding local businesses who are willing to accept the points in lieu of cash for their products and services. Brick-and-mortar shops, cafes and restaurants are a large focus of the Shop Local program, but the company has also been building its Makers program, which lets independent artisans list their products for trade on the app for BTZ.

At last count, Matysek says, the Shop Local program included 100 stores and about 50 makers, including local faves like the Drake General Store, iQ Food Co., Crywolf, Northwood, Reunion Island, Chocosol and more. Offerings span everything from coffee, cocktails and food to manicures, houseplants, bike tune-ups and haircuts. You could even hypothetically buy a wedding dress with BTZ at Ossington bridal boutique LoversLand. (No one’s done it yet, though the store’s staff say they have had a few bridesmaids cash in BTZ for their dresses).

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Natalia Manzocco

Among the things you can buy with BTZ: A boob paperweight at the Drake General Store.

Matysek says businesses have been drawn to the program by the promise of access to a massive community of users, as well as pure curiosity about “what it’s like getting into the BTZ game.” The on-boarding tends to come in waves as more businesses join, others want to get involved.

Due to user demand, Matysek says, they’ve started to “look more into grocery stores and everyday needs” for the program, adding PWYC grocer Feed It Forward and Fresh City Farms on Ossington to the roster of stores. 

Businesses can choose whether they want to offer specific items on the app (for example, a taco at Pow Wow Cafe or a dog daycare session at Unleashed In The City), let users redeem BTZ for a set amount of money ($5 or $10 off), or just accept the equivalent of their purchase amount (like 394 BTZ for a $3.94 coffee). That’s up to the merchants, Matysek says. 

So what do businesses do with all those accumulated points? The company will let stores cash them back out at rate of $0.01 per BTZ — but Matysek says that many businesses have actually opted to hang onto them and use them for their own transactions. 

“Some like to keep their BTZ for themselves, some like to spend them somewhere else,” she says. “It’s been really fun creating individual agreements for each (vendor). We actually just had someone decide to keep their BTZ because some of the vendors in their store wanted to be paid in BTZ, and those people are then going out and doing trades.” 

Matysek adds that many of the Bunz Makers will do straight-up Bunz trades for ISO items as well as BTZ transactions. “It’s really neat, this infrastructure that’s started to come up because of it.”

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Terrazzo-patterned ashtrays from Night Shift Ceramics, one of the makers selling their wares for BTZ via the Bunz app.

So far, only one business has dropped out of the Shop Local program, due to problems integrating the technology with their inventory system. Conversely, she says, they’re seeing some businesses — Strange Love Coffee is an example — do as much as 30 per cent of their monthly business in BTZ.

I ask Matysek if BTZ will eventually play a more direct role in bringing revenue to Bunz so far, the app has been funded through investors. “It is definitely a way toward being more self-sustaining and profitable,” she says, adding she can’t elaborate, since the process is still in its infancy.

“Our CEO [Sascha Mojtahedi] likes to say we’re doing things backwards — that a lot of cryptocurrencies launch and then have to figure out how to be usable, whereas we’ve already given it out to the community before going that traditional crypto route.”

The next step is to continue expanding the program into other cities though Toronto is obviously the biggest Bunz stronghold, Matysek says they’ve onboarded businesses in Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Hamilton. “Ottawa’s done really fantastic — it’s actually our fastest growing user base,” Matysek says. “We got a bunch of emails from users in Ottawa out of the blue: ‘Here’s a list of 30 stores that want to accept BTZ!'”

BTZ burning a hole in your pocket? Here’s some of our fave local spots to spend ’em:

Cafe Neon

It used to be that you were limited to the (absolutely righteous) breakfast bagel at this all-day Greek breakfast joint’s two locations — but recently, they started accepting BTZ for the entire menu. Smoked trout sandwich, here I come. 

1024 Queen Street West & 241 Wallace, @cafe_neon

Glassbox Barbershop

I was already going to Glassbox for shape-conscious scissor cuts (they won’t hack at you with No. 2 clippers here — unless you ask for that, of course) for a year before they started accepting BTZ. Now that I can declutter my way to a trim, they’ve got my loyalty for life. 

338 Harbord & 43 Roncesvalles, glassboxbarbershop.com

Art Of Demolition

If your place is missing a gigantic vintage sign, live-edge slab table, or old medical stretcher (seriously), look no further! This store in the Junction will be your saving grace when the only person on Bunz with that hyper-specific vintage item you’ve spent ages hunting down is like “$100 GC only please [angel emoji]”. 

390 Keele, theartofdemolition.com

Eastbound Brewing

Drinking your BTZ is pretty much as close to free beer as you can get. Several bars around town (including Halo and Henderson Brewing) are taking BTZ for booz — but since I generally prefer to hang out at a little watering hole I like to call “my couch”, I’m glad there’s places like Eastbound, which accepts BTZ at the bottle shop for easy takeaway. (West-end home bodies, get thee to Indie Ale House instead!) 

700 Queen East, eastboundbeer.com

The Alternative Cafe

When was the last time you saw a cafe that made their own dessert empanadas and pretzel croissants? They’re available for grab-and-go at this cute third-wave cafe on Richmond — along with espresso-laced smoothies, soups, sandwiches, coffee extracted from a Japanese cold brew coffee tower, and more. 

439 Richmond West, thealternativecafe.com

nataliam@nowtoronto.com | @nataliamanzocco

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