How Art Retailers Platform 72 Are Saving A Trend-Setting Retail Strip From This Common Problem For Businesses
This local council’s decision is helping commercial and non-profit creative organisations establish themselves.
In the 90s, Oxford Street was a trend-setting retail strip and the pulsing heart of Sydney’s diverse gay community.
Today, high rents and two new Westfield shopping centres nearby have killed off many of the small businesses that made Oxford Street interesting, and even the gay community is non-committal about being there.
The problem can be traced back to the Sydney Olympics, when the City of South Sydney Council dramatically increased its tenants’ rents.
Fast forward to 2012 – the City of Sydney Council, who inherited the historic properties during the forced council merge of 2004, was faced with an urgent need to try and resuscitate the street, which was a depressingly monotonous wall of ‘For Lease’ signs.
I think there is a real demand for Australian creativity and expression and people just want to be able to buy it or view it.
How to Use Awareness of Consumer Demand to Bring a Trend-Setting Retail Strip Back from the Dead
The city launched the Oxford Street Cultural & Creative Spaces program, which made 18 short-term office and retail spaces in their property portfolio available to artists or creative workers for low rent. This would give the commercial and non-profit creative organisations the opportunity to establish themselves without worrying about money while returning some bohemian flavour to the street.
Platform72, a retail space featuring all-Australian artworks, has been one of the most successful participants. It was initially offered a six-month tenancy at 72 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst from February 2012, but the operation was viewed so favourably by the council that the lease was extended twice and is now due to expire at the end of this year.
“I think there is a real demand for Australian creativity and expression and people just want to be able to buy it or view it,” says Platform72 director, Juliet Rosser.
Innovation AND Revenue
Prices for the artworks range from five dollars to $15,000 and some of the artists include Craig Ruddy, Mary Shackman, Paola Talbert, Ember Fairbairn and Marnie Ross.
Rosser admits to initial challenges, changing people’s perceptions about art that’s not sold in a formal gallery, but the edgy, quality artworks soon won customers over. “We’ve got a lot of local community support,” she says. “People know they can buy a high-quality Australian artwork any day of the week.”
The store has been so successful that when Rosser approached Brand X, an organisation that matches artists with spaces, about a position on the level three ‘creative floor’ of Broadway’s new Central Park shopping centre, the developer Frasers Property intervened to offer a position on the ground floor, free of charge for six months.
It was a way for them to get different foot traffic through the centre − they thought it would be a better fit,” she says. “So suddenly we’re down on the ground floor next to international brands like Adidas! It’s a huge learning curve to be in a retail centre and having to be open seven days a week.”
Rosser says Platform72 is more likely to sell smaller or more affordable artworks under $500 at Central Park while the bigger, more expensive pieces are more likely to sell on Oxford Street. “We have more astute art collector-buyers coming into Oxford Street, whereas at Central we have people from the ABC, local creative industries and lots of students,” she says.
Scale, Scale, Scale
The next step is a new, by-appointment showroom at St Leonards on the north shore. “It’s going to be a hub for our in-home consultation service,” she says. “People can come in and sit down with me and go through everything and find out what kind of artwork they really respond to. Then we take it to their place to see if it works.”
Rosser says that it has taken three years for Platform72 to find its feet − and that it wouldn’t have gotten there without council’s desire to activate its vacant spaces.
“Oxford Street Creative Spaces gave me the opportunity to try a very different business in the marketplace,” she says. “It allowed me to try different business models and allow a degree of experimentation I would not have been able to try with a commercial tenancy. I have no idea what I would have done without it.”
More than 45,000 people have visited the 18 properties in the Oxford Street Cultural & Creative Spaces program since it began in 2012 and the program has since been extended to another two City-owned properties on William Street.
This article appeared in Smarter Business Ideas magazine in August 2014.