room44 innovates

On the corner of the high street, squeezed in between a pub and an estate agency, is a small, single-fronted shop with deep red painted window and door frames. Across the window run the words ‘Shoe Repairs’ in gold leaf, and underneath, in script, it announces ‘keys cut’.

The chap that runs the place is thickset, unsmiling and monosyllabic. He isn’t the chattiest of shopkeepers. Anyone entering the shop has to start the conversation, or it doesn’t get started. This means you need to see what you want, or know he has it, before you go in. The shop is too small to ‘browse’ comfortably: the description on the sign outside tells a pretty accurate story, although you could buy an extendable walking stick or a pair of shoelaces. Range selection of the traditional kind.

Writing on the walls

All around the walls hang display cards with blank templates of keys. If you can see the kind of key you need, you’re in luck. If you can’t, you’ll have to ask. You’ll often be met with a response like, “be here Thursday”. Asking how much it will cost seems a step too far.

Until recently, the local hotel used to send over for room key replacements. It’s amazing how many guests go home with their keys, no matter how big and ornate they are. Since the hotel converted their locks to keycards, this business has dried up. No-one’s asked the shoe repairer how he feels about that. Mainly because the key cutting service isn’t important to anyone – it’s just there.

Next, car keys became too hard to reproduce: electronic, automatic opening, near-field activated. The key templates for older cars are still occasionally requested by vintage car owners, and hobbyists who visit the nearby circuit for track days. The shop guy hasn’t really thought about this much, and he sometimes notices the display cards getting dustier.

House keys aren’t asked for so often anymore, and the people from offices who used to pop in for a copy, just in case they lost their door keys and their deposit, have stopped calling.

Even the small keys that were once popular seem to have fallen out of favour. Combination locks for bikes started years ago, but the shoe repairer kept the card on the wall just in case. Someone told him that bikes can be unlocked by a card now; he doesn’t really get how that works.

Micro effects of macro change

Little things in themselves, maybe, but little things that point to a bigger change. Micro effects caused by macro change.

The shoe repairer isn’t interested in technology. His car has keyless ignition, although he hasn’t made the connection with falling turnover. He’s more comfortable with shoes and with work that he can rely on. Hammers, nails, lasts and polish are all reliable. Always needed.

He’s thinking about taking some of his display cards down if he could decide which templates would be missed or what he should put up instead. Maybe he needs a website. Do people buy keys from the internet?

He realises that he hasn’t seen his locksmith friend lately; he used to drop in quite regularly.

Perhaps he should go next door and see what the estate agent wanted to talk about when she called in last week. Maybe she needs some keys.

Then again, at least he’s got shoes to repair. There will always be shoes. It’s not as if you can make them another way – I mean, it’s not as if you can print them, is it?

Seeing it differently. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.

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