Wireless earbuds. Electric skateboards. App-controlled robots. Video-enabled doorbells. Welcome to B8ta, a new-generation tech-products store brimming with “toys” for “kids” age 8 to 80. William Mintun, Vibhu Norby and Phillip Raub, co-founders of the San Francisco–based concept, came by their collective experience in consumer electronics and hardware at the likes of Apple, Nest and Nintendo. They opened their first store in 2015, in downtown Palo Alto, Calif., and this they followed up with two more a year later: one in Santa Monica, Calif., the other in Seattle.
Certainly, the partners bring a nonconventional approach to selling. Their vision, as suggested by their choice of a name reflective of the beta testing of products, was to create a hands-on, interactive retail concept that helps manufacturers bridge the gap between making the product and getting it into the hands of the consumer. The items are sold on consignment, and the manufacturers train B8ta staff to demonstrate their merchandise and answer questions. The product makers also make use of the stores to promote their goods through video campaigns and other promotional efforts. “We definitely think of retail much differently,” said Raub, B8ta’s chief marketing officer.
Customers may buy direct from the store or preorder merchandise that is still in production. B8ta also provides a way to channel customer feedback. “Those are the things that we do at B8ta that help differentiate who we are versus other retailers today,” said Raub.
B8ta has teamed up with home-improvement retailer Lowe’s to operate an area within the store for demonstration of such items as a wireless thermostat. There are now three of these store-within-a-store units, in the California cities of Aliso Viejo, Burbank and Livermore. B8ta has plans to roll out more of these in conjunction with other retail chains.
In addition B8ta says it will be opening more of its regular format stores this year. How many of those there will be remains undetermined, but the company has nearly $20 million in hand, raised within just these two years of its operation. “We will be using that capital,” said Raub, “along with other partnerships that we have forged to continue our growth and expansion.” — Beth Mattson Teig