Preparing for the Future by Creating it: b8ta CEO Talks 3 years of Changing Retail

Posted by Vibhu Norby on December 12, 2018
Vibhu Norby
Find me on:

One of our core values at b8ta is being contrarian. There’s a values document posted on the wall of our office that reads:

“We do not buy into narratives. We do not care for the way things have been done elsewhere, even the way things have always been done at b8ta. We identify trends, and often do the opposite.”

But how do you remain contrarian when an entire industry embraces the ideas that your company was founded on; when they’re no longer contrarian, but the default?

It’s a question I’ve been thinking about a lot in the lead up to today, the third anniversary of our first store opening in downtown Palo Alto.

Although it seems that way now, in 2015 we didn’t set out to build the future of retail, or to be one of the first “experiential retailers.” We just wanted to create something that we thought would be useful. At the time, there was a flood of new consumer hardware products coming to market, and no place to try them. A store seemed like a really efficient and economical way to do so.

Not long after launching, I knew we were on to something special from two distinct moments. The first was when I spoke at a retail conference about what we were doing and an entrepreneur who made ceramic plates asked if we had any plans to expand into dishware. It made me realize that the problem we saw in electronics probably extended much deeper into retail than we had originally considered.

The second was when I was invited to speak to a group of about 30 execs at the corporate offices of a major top 20 retailer in our category. After a brief presentation on our store, our business model, and the software we had built, we had reserved 15 minutes for Q&A. The room stared at me blankly and there were no questions or comments. I thought maybe I had said something wrong.

Afterwards, the senior-most person in the room came up to and told me that we weren’t doing anything differently than them, but they liked the way our store looked. A year later they launched a cosmetic copy of our store but forgot to bring everything else that makes b8ta special—our staff, our technology, our focus on engagement, and the model we offer our partners. Believe it or not, this has now happened more than a few times. It’s made us realize that it would take a lot of work for incumbents to change decades-old habits, and we could build a business helping other retailers figure out their future too.

Of all the insights that led to the creation of b8ta, our insight into the business model of retail and how it needed to change was perhaps most crucial. From our time spent working on the product side of retail at companies like Nest and Apple, we knew that a decreasing number of people shopping in stores were transacting, and a growing percentage of our online sales were attributable to people seeing our products in stores.

It seemed obvious, that for a store to exist in the future, a business model needed to be invented that was built around engagement and awareness, not transactions. We called this model Retail as a service. We didn’t create it for novelty; it seemed like the only way forward. With some perspective and a three year head start, we now know that Retail as a service is a hungry model, and that in all likelihood it will eat up all of multi-brand retail in the next few decades.

Today, with almost 20 stores under our belt, 125 people, more than a million shoppers per year, and major partnerships with companies like Macy’s and Google, we’re sure that our contrarian bet on experiential retail three years ago is a major part of the future. However, we’re still in the earliest days of this new arc for retail, perhaps akin to e-commerce in 1995. We have a lot of work to do and we hope you’ll come along for the journey. I can assure you next year on the fourth anniversary of b8ta Palo Alto, our company will look nothing like it does today, and every year thereafter.

 


 

b8ta is Retail as a Service: you provide the vision, we provide the retail experience that meets your needs. With our retail subscription models you can scale up or down as your business grows or pivots. Set up shop for the consumers you want, we do the rest.  Learn more at builtbyb8ta.com.