A not-for-profit centre offering locally-made products may help draw shoppers back to the high street, writes JULENA DRUMI
If the high street is failing, re-think it. Reject uniformity and identikit streets. Instead, choose original and local.
It’s the mantra behind a not-for-profit business that has moved into one of Scotland’s most fashionable retail streets to give the shopper a reason to abandon their laptops and do some proper physical browsing.
The Scottish Design Exchange was set up five years ago by Lynzi Leroy who wanted to create something to support small firms – in particular local artists and other craft workers.
The SDX was launched in Leith’s Ocean Terminal and has just moved into George Street, Edinburgh, nestling among some of the biggest names in the sector.
While they may continue to dominate the shopping experience, Ms Leroy believes the secret to getting people back into towns and cities is to give them an alternative to the familiar brands.
SDX is home to work by more than 150 artists and designers selling everything from illustrated greetings cards and furniture to chocolate and jewellery. As Christmas nears, it is hoping to tempt those looking for original gifts.
She said in a recent interview that the success of the business model “should be a lesson to other retailers, that the future of the high street lies with providing customers with products that are unique, authentic and of great quality.”
Ms Leroy, somewhat ironically, has a background in big business. She worked in project management for large organisations such as Shell and Nokia, in Holland and Kazakstan.
She returned to Scotland in 2001 looking for a change of direction and always had an interest in helping to develop small businesses and community projects.
With only £5,000 to invest, she approached Ocean Terminal with a request. “Give me a shop space, a few months’ incubation period and I will deliver customers and revenue.”
‘I definitely think one of the reasons the high street is dying is because it’s the same in every city’
She set up the SDX as a a social enterprise and in the first three years turned over £1.1 million, allowing her to hand over £800,000 to tenants who pay a fixed-fee to rent space.
A second outlet opened in Glasgow’s Buchanan Galleries in 2018 and has enjoyed similar success which has encouraged Ms Leroy to look at taking the concept to other locations, including Tayside, the North-east and the Highlands.
“I definitely think one of the reasons the high street is dying is because it’s the same in every city,” she said. “We’ve added something a bit different and we’re bringing artists into the high street, so people are getting more of an individual product.”