The Scottish Design Exchange (SDX) will reopen following the easing of lockdown restrictions with the launch of a new city centre store in Edinburgh and an online push into the North American market.
The business, which has distributed some £3.5 million to 300 artists since it was launched in 2015, has proved particularly popular among Scottish expats and Caledonian societies with overseas sales accounting for almost a third of revenues since the pandemic struck.
SDX has taken up residence in a new retail space in Edinburgh’s George Street which is due to open, along with its existing Glasgow store, on April 26, when the Scottish Government’s Covid roadmap allows for the reopening of non-essential retailers.
The move from the exchange’s launch store in Ocean Terminal, Leith, to city centre premises formerly occupied by Laura Ashley, reflects a determination to champion the high street, according to SDX founder Lynzi Leroy.
The new store, which covers more than 650 square metres of retail space, provides an opportunity to showcase the work of up to 180 artists – compared with 120 at Ocean Terminal.
The Glasgow outlet, located within the Buchanan Galleries shopping centre, has more than doubled the turnover of its east coast counterpart since its launch in autumn 2018.
Unlike most art galleries, SDX does not charge commission on items sold. Tenants pay a fixed fee to rent space, so they are not penalised for the popularity of their products.
The business received £50,000 of funding from the Scottish Government’s business resilience fund.
Leroy said: “In some senses, lockdown has been a blessing in disguise as it forced us to look beyond our traditional markets and to raise our profile overseas.
“The online store was previously just a bolt-on to the physical retail business, and much of its traffic was from tourists who had visited the stores during their trips to Scotland and who wanted to buy more.
“It made sense that the popularity of our products among overseas customers coming to the shops would be replicated online and that’s what has happened.”
Prior to lockdown Leroy, a former manager for Shell in Kazakhstan, was scouting for premises north of the Central Belt.
She now aims to resume the search for outlets in Tayside, the North-east and the Highlands to provide a platform to showcase the work of up to 900 artists north of Perth and from across the Highlands and Islands.
“We had been on the lookout for premises in city centres prior to the pandemic, but we hadn’t found the right locations quite yet,” noted Leroy.
“We remain confident demand exists for our products across Scotland and beyond. I feel we’re only scratching the surface and that this business model still has some way to run.”
Bosses will be launching a significant marketing campaign in the US and Canada following the success of its online store.