If you can’t beat the high street, rethink it
Lynzi Leroy founded the Scottish Design Exchange in Leith in 2015, providing a high street presence for artists and craftspeople. With a new store open in Glasgow, she explains the philosophy behind the social enterprise
This is your second outlet. Why do you think the Scottish Design Exchange (SDX) has been so successful?
Retail is dying. Our high streets are full of mass produced imports. This is true, not just in the UK but across Europe – in any city you will find the same products. I believe customers are looking for something different – something unique and there’s a corresponding drive to support local economies. SDX is doing both. Our model was designed specifically to compete on the high street and to make it easier for customers to buy direct from local artists. In contrast with private galleries, 100 per cent of our sales revenue goes directly to the artists.
What did you learn in France that you were able to implement in Scotland? Do the French treat their artists and makers differently?
What I love about France is that, no matter what region you go to, you find local artists’ works on sale. There is certainly more support given to artists to sell their work and it’s also made easily accessible for customers to purchase. These are often in little artisan shops located among larger high street brands.
Is there an artist or maker that you have discovered that you are especially pleased about? One of our great success stories is Whisky Frames, which began as a hobby for artist Kirsten Hunter who had made a few picture frames from whisky barrels at her home in Midlothian. It has grown to an annual turnover of over £350,000 and its products are stocked in more than 80 outlets. We can’t take credit for all its success, but I remember Kristen coming to us with an idea to try out at our launch store at Ocean Terminal, in Leith. By the end of her first week we had to ask her to come and restock – she was almost sold out. She became one of our top selling artists very quickly which gave her the confidence to take her products to other distributors. Within a year she was running her new business full-time, employing five staff. That’s the beauty of SDX – we give people opportunities to test the market in a busy high street store and support these small businesses to grow and succeed.
The new space stocks everything from sculpture to wallets. In your experience from the Edinburgh shop, what is likely to sell well?
We do have a wide range of sales, from clothes to original art work. Many people come to us for gifts and we see ourselves as a product shop – not an art gallery. The majority of sales are gifts or items to decorate the house. We sell a lot of prints and cards and we sell a lot of jewellery as gifts. We know Glasgow will be different from Leith – its people are unique with their own ideas and values so some things that work in Leith may not work in Glasgow and vice versa. I think we’ll need to wait and see.
How does a new artist/maker get involved? What’s the process?
We try to keep our joining process and contract as simple as possible and to give everyone who wants to work with us a chance. Ultimately, it’s the customer who decides whether or not the artists’ products sell. Our sales staff play a role in promoting our artists but ultimately, it’s a business driven by customer demand. We ensure we don’t have products that are too similar, and we work to ensure we have a good range of products on display. We also help artists with their pricing. Our contracts are month-tomonth, except over the busy Christmas period where we ask our artists to commit from November to March. What we don’t want to do is take money from artists who are not selling and we allow them to leave with a month’s notice.
You are passionate about making art available to the public. What is it that drives you?
I know we have amazingly talented artists in Scotland but many of them are told they’re not good enough and that their work doesn’t fit with the gallery ‘model’. I want to help artists to make money from their work and not have to get themselves a second job to support their art. If you look around any high street store, most things have been designed by an artist or product designer but only those that become household names get public recognition or an income that they can live on. I wanted to turn the retail model on its head and create a business where the artists and designers get the lion’s share of the profit and that brings
“I wanted to turn the retail model on its head and create a business where the artists and designers get the lion’s share of the profit”