Gadgets galore at B8ta, a new boutique for techies at The Domain

Posted May 18th, 2017

Starting Saturday, Austin gadget hounds will have a new place to sniff out and try gear.

 B8ta, a new retail chain based out of of San Francisco that sells technology products that largely fall into the “Internet of Things” category, is expanding to The Domain.

The new location, following stores in Santa Monica, Palo Alto and Seattle, is more than 3,000 square feet and is across the street from Restoration Hardware in The Domain’s Northside corridor. It is scheduled to open at 10 a.m. Saturday and the day’s festivities will include food, swag and a musical performance . 

As workers were continuing to work on the space and get the exterior ready for the opening, much of the merchandise that will be for sale was already on display by Tuesday. That included June, an Internet-connected tabletop oven that allows you to see what’s cooking even when you’re not home, an electronic skateboard from the company Acton, and plenty of virtual-reality devices, such as the Oculus Rift.

Want to see more? View a photo gallery of the new Austin B8ta store

While the store will not look completely unfamiliar to shoppers of the Apple Store, the Microsoft Store or even parts of Best Buy — clean white countertops with tech products lovingly displayed to touch and examine — co-founder and chief marketing officer Phillip Raub says there are some key differences.

“We’re bringing consumers and makers closer together,” he said. “We’re giving control of the branding and messaging to makers.”

By makers, he means the people who build tech products, often using crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter to get going. B8ta sells products past that point, when a company with a tech product is ready to ship devices, and testers at its stores try them out first to make sure they’re ready to be sold publicly.

Omar L. Gallaga/American-StatesmanThis baby monitor gadget is among the products offered at B8ta, a new store opening at The Domain in Austin.

Raub and his co-founders Vibhu Norby (B8ta’s CEO) and William Mintun (COO) were on the team that created Nest Labs, the connected-thermostat company that was acquired by Google in 2014.

The store does not take a cut of each product sale; manufacturers set their own prices, create their own sales pitch to display in small store kiosks they can access online, and only pay for space in as many of the B8ta stores as they’d like to pay for, Raub said.

Raub said the store is divided into four main categories: Home (security cameras, connected-home devices), Play (toys and educational products), Sense (VR headsets, audio products) and Move (backpacks, electric skateboards, fitness gadgets). 

“The store is built for discovery,” Raub said. “You can try out products you may have only seen online.”

The Austin location, unlike previous B8ta stores, has a space set aside to accommodate musical performance. But it remains to be seen what tech gear will be most popular to Central Texans. “Each store kind of takes on a personality of its own,” Raub said. In Seattle and Palo Alto, home devices are hot, while in Santa Monica, at a store right off the Boardwalk, Move fitness products are top sellers.

Omar L. GallagaThe Blink electric skateboard is among the products offered at B8ta, a new store opening at The Domain.

The Austin store, which was designed by the architecture firm Gensler, has seven employees known as “B8ta Testers” and will open with 38 new products not previously sold at any of the B8ta stores.

When a customer is interested in a product and hits “Buy” on a touch screen sitting next to a display device, a B8ta Tester is summoned via the Slack messaging application. Employees of B8ta have access to the company’s Slack sales channels, allowing them to see what customers are trying out and buying. Employees take notes on product demos, why customers choose to buy a product and what the reason is for a product return, feedback that goes back to the product makers.

Raub says it’s been especially rewarding to get small makers in front of customers, such as a group of UCLA students who developed a product called Flux Chargers.

“We’re helping small makers have the tools to succeed,” Raub said.