Dynamic shops, 17 years in the making, now at Fleet services M3 northbound

17.38, Friday 25 Aug 2023

I would like to see more transforming shops.

I was driving back along the M3 and stopped at Fleet Services where there is a noodle bar called CHOPSTIX. Which, for reference, has a green logo on a bright orange background.

(Brit micro celeb culture deep cut: the motorway footbridge at Fleet Services is dedicated as the Scott Mills Bridge.)


I got there and instead there was a food outlet named THE GOOD BREAKFAST.

Well that’s weird, I thought, to dedicate a scarce storefront to a brand that stops being relevant in the afternoon. But us Brits we love our fry-ups so ok I get it.

Then I noticed:

  • The entire flat panel sign above the outlet was a single full-color LED display
  • The menus behind the counter were all TVs.

Here’s a pic on my Instagram - what the second image shows is that, at midday every day, THE GOOD BREAKFAST turns into CHOPSTIX. The signage is reprogrammed, the TVs update the menu, the kitchen turns over the food counter.

Sidetrack for a second: let me introduce you to the best design fiction ever made.

In 2006, Zurich Insurance ran a series of TV ads as part of their overall brand campaign, Because Change Happenz.

Here’s one of the ads on YouTube.

I highlighted the transforming shop/cafe last time I talked about it.

It’s a collection of short scenarios made mundane by being shown incidentally in an entirely believable near future:

  • a commuter on prosthetic cyborg legs
  • auto-routing cars at a busy junction with no traffic lights
  • a transforming shop/cafe

(Just as wild, in the minds of the advertisers, is the idea of old people snowboarding. Only 17 years ago!)

[There’s] a second ad with vignettes including auto-inflating fall protection jackets for construction workers, and people in suits caring about mental well-being.

Think for a moment about e.g. robot cars, which are in these ads. (In 2006!!!)

How on earth do you get insurance underwriters to think about how insurance works in scenarios like this? When you have to measure and assess risk second by second; when you can’t bump complex policies to a human underwriter because the policy is being bought via a machine API and the car needs the result right now as it decides route on a slower road or a quick, riskier freeway? How do you get the IT managers and data scientists to think about what systems you need to support this, and management to consider whether to enter into partnership with car companies and startups wanting to operate like this?

Because you need all those people, and all that business back-end, to make worlds like this possible – and the way you enroll and align them is with design fiction like Zurich’s 2006 ad campaign.

My favourite moment in the Zurich ad (linked above) is at 40 seconds: we see a daytime cafe, and then all the walls rotate, and mannequins drop from the ceiling, and it’s a fashion boutique.

Then the outdoor signage flips over again, and it’s an evening restaurant.

Like, how do you do the accounts for a place like that?

What does the P&L look like?

You wouldn’t be able to manage it on a single profit and loss. You wouldn’t be able to see what was working. So, three P&Ls. But then how do you do the absorption costing for the shared rent?

(Given it’s an insurance ad, who would sell you insurance? It’s hard enough to get insurance for a micro consultancy that mixes client services and your own product development.)

Dynamic storefronts are an awesome idea btw – they would keep high streets vibrant round the clock.

The blocker is that today’s back-office processes make it fearsomely complex to tell whether making your store dynamic is a good idea. As a business owner, do you take the hit and run THE GOOD BREAKFAST - with the cap-ex hit of needing to buy more fridges, hold more stock (double your wastage), do more training, staff the place for longer, etc - or are you better off running at lower margin but lower investment as CHOPSTIX round the clock?

Your software will barely help. It’s too hard.

And that why Fleet Services, M3 northbound, in 2023, is the first time I’ve seen a store concept I originally saw in a TV spot in 2006.

It feels wrong that the barrier to “people trying new things” is the method of expressing it in the financials (which are, at best, an intermediary to being able to answer questions like “am I doing better this month than last month).

It should be trivial for anyone to spin up a business that doesn’t “crash” in the same way that, if you’re writing code nowadays, it’s pretty hard to make it crash too. (The previous time I had this complaint: Software-defined businesses (2020).)


Oh but a last thought, some homework for you. If, as it turns out, those 2006 ads were projecting forwards 17 years to today, then what would today’s Because change happenz ad vignettes be, looking ahead to 2040?

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