The Retail Rebel

The social entrepreneur bucking the retail trend and doing good

With more shops due to close that at any time in history, it is inspiring to know of at least one retailer bucking the downward trend. I am talking here of someone with the vision and courage to create a model that works in today’s shrinking offline market. Lynzi Leroy, founder of the Scottish Design Exchange (SDX) truly is Scotland’s retail rebel and is now expanding her operation to the other side of the country. It all started less than three years ago. Having worked with Shell in Holland and Kazakstan, Lynzi was determined to build a business not characterised by the machismo and raw greed she had experienced in the oil and gas industry.

Starting on a shoestring

Back in Scotland, with only £5,000 to invest, a working husband and a 7-year-old daughter Lynzi approached Leith’s Ocean Terminal with a request. ‘Give me a shop space, a few months’ incubation period and I will deliver customers and revenue. Her idea? A shop that gives artists and designers a display space for a small rent – then uses that rent to cover costs and employ sales staff. Her primary purpose however, was to give each artist full proceeds from the sale of their products.

Now almost three years later, the Scottish Design Exchange is in full swing in Leith, with over 100 artists and designers displaying their creations and five enthusiastic staff helping to make each trip to the shop inspiring and welcoming. The staff know and care about the artists and will readily tell the story behind each creation. It works. Who doesn’t like a purchase with a human story behind it?. The Scottish Design Exchange is a success story in every sense. It has turned over £1.1 million in under three years, handed over £800,000 to hard-working local artists, designers and craftspeople and is now set to open in Glasgow’s Buchanan Galleries.

A people first business

But, there is more to SDX than a healthy balance sheet. 60% of the 300 artists and designers the shop has supported, reported prior episodes of poor mental health. So, not only has Lynzi created a business (SDX is a Community Interest Company) that rewards artists financially –they also join a welcoming and supportive community. The stories of people whose lives have been reclaimed and revitalised is truly inspiring. One describes it like this:

“Becoming part of SDX was a new beginning in my life. I was at home, with a big depression – feeling completely isolated from the world and society. SDX helped to get a purpose in my life and I am not being dramatic or over reacting. SDX really did save my life.”

She is now a best seller at the shop and likely to feature in their Glasgow store when it opens this summer.

A quick scan of SDX’s visitor book tells you that customers experience something more than just a visit to a shop.

‘Best shop I’ve been into … I think ever…even without knowing the story behind it. Super friendly staff explaining how it works – even better’

‘This is an amazing place where the extraordinary is expected. Everything in it is just unique and amazing. Love the idea of so many designers in one place – great.’

When we look back in years to come, Lynzi Leroy’s name is sure to feature large in the story of how our economy was reinvented. She has created a model that shares rather than hordes profits and proved that it is possible to give unfettered access to a market with high visibility, zero commission and full payment to those who create, produce and grow.

What next is in store? Well there is Glasgow in a couple of months, Dundee looks likely. But why stop there and why stop at artists and designers? I think Lynzi has struck on something that can be applied across a range of market sectors.

For now, let’s celebrate Lynzi Leroy – Scotland’s Retail Rebel.