A Literacy of the Imagination

a deeper look at innovation through the lenses of media, technology, venture investment and hyperculture

Food Truck Culture, #Geotility & The New Retail Paradigm

Well, the now famous KOGI BBQ folks set off quite a wildfire. The ingenious idea of location-based (and preference-based) retailing has gone to new heights, and in some ways, it’s leveling the playing field between the big fish and the littler guys.

Just this week I discovered two new regional franchises (both family-owned) that have literally gone mobile — Fishlips Sushi and Sprinkles (cupcakes). Both have niche followings and are building highly profitable businesses by going out on the road.

By the way, neither Fishlips nor Sprinkles are the best food products around (although they are pretty damn good), but they reflect an experience, like KOGI, that is fun and inviting. They make eating an even more enjoyable lunchtime event, something that people can really look forward to during their workday.

According to the young lady who manages the food truck I came across for Sprinkles, they have the second highest Twitter following in the LA area of all the food trucks (19K +), just behind the KOGI crew, and they will be dispatching 5 more trucks in the coming weeks in select cities around the southwest. This makes you wonder about where and how the business might scale, and at a macro level, how the retail model could be completely transformed.

Mobile apps are undoubtedly facilitating this access. Pretty soon, we’re likely to see FourSquare mayors and GoWalla founders battling it out for new territories and ‘rights’ to new products that have been mobilized. But looking beyond devices and staged behaviors, geotility takes on entirely new meaning when we consider that new media environments -- such those involving touchscreen technologies for things like digital OOH and new AR extensions -- can get us what we want and need in real-time. It’s even more amazing to think that we can solve significant inventory and supply issues by accurately gauging market demand.

Food Truck Culture, #Geotility & The New Retail Paradigm

Now of course, with the spoils of technology, flash mobbing and instant access come the dangers of ‘culture clashing’ or even ‘cultural disconnectivity’ -- something most products or brands cannot foresee in the pursuit of optimized commerce. We are, after all, primarily a sell culture of indulgence, impropriety and and over-consumption. As Grant McCracken put it so well in his book, Chief Culture Officer:

“Without a connection to culture, Coke is merely carbonated water and syrup. Without culture, it’s just a fizzy drink. So culture counts. Let’s be clearer still. The fundamental terms of the Coke proposition are changing. The carbonated soft drink is now contested by new ideas of what a drink should be (Snapple, Gatorade, Poland Springs, Vitamin-water, Red Bull). In the traditional case, culture matters. In the present case, it matters more.”

We can apply this insight within the context of this piece by establishing that good commerce is a by-product of moderation, a way of giving people just enough to satiate their appetite and thirst, but staving off the indulgences that create or engender poor values, and ultimately, those very things that compromise the integrity of any brand or product in its evolutionary lifecycle.

Bottom line: the world is changing and we can sell just about anything instantaneously, yet the question remains as to whether it will mean something to us after we’ve consumed it. Will it connect us to new people? Will it make us think differently about our physical and/or mental health? Will it improve our lives?

Or, does this complement some of the richer legacy experiences we share in designated retail locations, places where we have an intimate, one-on-one connection with brands and the products they represent? (vis-à-vis the Apple Store and Nike Store experiences)

Food for thought (pun intended).