SDX STARS: Founder Lynzi Leroy
Following success with store openings first in Edinburgh’s Ocean Terminal shopping centre and Glasgow’s Buchanan Galleries this summer, founder and managing director Lynzi Leroy is now looking at resurgent Dundee, other UK cities and franchising.
For customers SDX and its website are destinations that challenge standardisation by offering unique, affordable works from fashion and furniture to paintings, prints, books, cards and candles, plus an inspiring story too about the locally-based makers.
Dubbed the “Ikea of the art world” by Leroy (only half-joking), SDX currently has 300 artists in its fold, a revolving roster with a 10 per cent client change.
Some are making a living for the first time, others finding community inspiration beyond solitary studio life or major sales success.
For landscape and abstract painter Donald Cochrane, a chipper 92, it’s been a life-enhancing chance to display his talents and be discovered internationally.
Others like jewellery makers Lita Oliveira (who fashions from resin) and Martine Teresa (who works with cork) have found purpose after hard times through SDX and regard it as a saviour.
“We were struggling with high rents, low returns and it was all a constant battle, market after market with stallholder rivalries,” says Lita.
“It was only when we met Lynzi and were introduced to the Scottish Design Exchange that it really started for us artists. It was like rising from the ashes.”
DSX STARS: Donald Cochrane
Kirsten Hunter’s eye-catching wooden frames carved out of old whisky barrels only took off after she joined forces with SDX.
Since then the only way has been up with the increased exposure leading to a six-figure turnover and helping her go on to sell the frames in 84 different outlets.
Forecast turnover for SDX itself is £2.5 million in 2020, there’s a waiting list for spaces and the enterprise employs 12, all vindication of Leroy’s commercial model that had its share of doubters when she began in 2015.
Among them were many artists, used to being charged commission rates of 40 per cent or more, surrendering their identity to big brand labels and lone slogs in markets and craft fairs, who feared a hidden catch.
“Each artist/designer pays a nominal rent, from £40 a month, for display space and a realistic route to market. That pays for staff, marketing and upkeep while they retain all their profits,”
But Leroy, a former Shell executive and “failed artist” tired of the lack of middle ground between souvenir tat and over-priced, elitist one-offs, saw an opportunity.
Observing most creatives lacked management, sales and marketing skills, she believed a social enterprise set-up was the way to bring more of Scotland’s phenomenal arts pool to the people.
In her not-for-profit, community interest company “each artist/designer pays a nominal rent, from £40 a month, for display space and a realistic route to market.
“That pays for staff, marketing and upkeep while they retain all their profits. This puts money back in their local communities instead of draining them and creating the perception true choice is seeping away,” explains Leroy who describes her own management style as “empowering staff”.
SDX has also launched an online sales platform, featuring some of its best-sellers which does charge commission.
“Although at 20 per cent this is way below most digital marketplaces,” she points out.
Selling the concept to start-up organisations wasn’t easy either, but an initial six-month rent holiday from Ocean Terminal’s landlord got it off to a flying start along with £125,000 of growth funding from Scottish Government social enterprise backer Firstport.
Wooden frames carved out of old whisky barrels from Kirsten Hunter
Since then it has stood on its own feet, a position Leroy is determined to maintain and by last July the Edinburgh store had turned over £1.1million, out of which the artists had been paid £840,000.
“Our locations matter, we’re near Debenhams in Edinburgh and John Lewis in Glasgow,” says Leroy.
“The actual spaces, one a former Austin Reed shop, were seen as difficult so we’re adding value too. Thirty per cent of customers are from overseas and like to physically pay us a visit too if they can, repeat custom is a growing factor.”
DSX STARS: Emma Westwater
As well as Dundee, home to the new V&A museum, Leroy has also received invites from Aberdeen and Inverness, but it’s franchising, she believes, that could open the way in smaller towns and tourist spots.
Regeneration has been a key driver in the creation of SDX and she welcomes signs in the autumn budget that there is likely to be more support for small retailers, high streets and local councils.
So always “give it a go” is what she advises and Donald the painter echoes that when, shrugging off suggestions he take things easier at his grand age, affirms: “Make something of what you have, never be afraid to try something new”.