Hello, Retail!

Posted by Vibhu Norby on December 8, 2015

I founded b8ta with a simple goal in mind: Create a physical space where people can try the best new technology products out of the box. No packaging—just products.

Before opening a store was even a thought in the back of my mind, I found myself bored by the product selection available at retailers. When I was shopping for holiday gifts last year, there was a serious gap between the innovative products available online and what I could actually try in person. Even when a store had something new or interesting, most of the time the product was lifeless in a box, under lock and key, or in a plastic display on a shelf.

I was working at Nest at the time, the company behind some of the most innovative products for the home. Nest wasn’t just good at making products, it had also masterfully put together in-store displays that let customers get a feel first, a factor that helped Nest build a successful company within an industry that hadn’t seen innovation in decades.

I shared my thoughts with a few colleagues who eventually became my b8ta cofounders: Why don’t all products get the same hero treatment with hands-on displays? Why aren’t new products inside retail stores sooner?

I quickly learned how arduous the process is for companies to go from fulfilling online orders to selling in retail stores. It could take years for a maker to get in contact and execute a deal with buyers. In addition, makers need to be able to navigate complicated terminology (that varies per retailer) and hire expensive consultants and experts (usually requiring an “in”).

For companies that do make it to retail, rarely is there a pot of gold awaiting them. Makers also have to be prepared to sell through. They have to:

  • Train inexperienced retail staff, store by store
  • Fight for appropriate inventory allocation and endcaps
  • Pay contractors to check on-shelf inventory
  • Run in circles figuring out how to appropriately spend “Market Development Funds”

And makers are expected to do all of this without regular sales reports or data to iterate on the customer’s experience with their products.

It’s not a fair deal. Big companies—both manufacturers and retailers—with big budgets and institutionalized complexity keep out all the upstarts. Something had to be done to bring retail up to date.

With the help and expertise of my cofounders Phillip Raub, Nicholas Mann, and William Mintun, we envisioned a retailer that worked differently. We envisioned a physical space where every product is a hero with a hands-on display. We envisioned a physical space where new products were available the same day as online.

Meet b8ta, a software-powered retail showroom for consumer hardware and IoT products.

b8ta is a retailer that showcases the products, not the packaging, one that makers can sign up for and manage online, that uses human language, provides real-time data on traffic and sales, and has a simple business model that doesn’t require a team of lawyers to execute.

Our showroom, which opens to the public this Friday, December 11, will have a collection of nearly 50 incredible makers and their technology products that you can try out of the box and buy, same day. For many of these makers, b8ta will be their first step into brick-and-mortar retail and their first opportunity to showcase their products the way they’re meant to be seen. For other makers, b8ta will be their opportunity to let you experience a familiar product in a new way.

We’re just getting started, but we’d be thrilled for you to stop by and experience the products at b8ta for yourself. The first b8ta showroom opens in downtown Palo Alto this Friday, December 11. Please come visit us at 516 Bryant Street and let us know what you think.