B8ta founder Vibhu Norby says the latest tech has to be touched to be believed
New technologies often need to be seen and touched to be understood.
That's why they're new technologies.
And yet, this is a time when we're kind of drawing away from stores because there's been a shutdown going on in case you've been living under a rock.
Before that the retail store was getting cast kind of a gray pall over it in favor of online.
And yet we're at a time when new technologies that are arriving now are some of the most category defying and really seem to need to be touched and seen in person.
So now what.
The blue Norby is gonna have some ideas about this.
He's co founder and CEO of beta.
We spell that B eight t A beta is a chain of about 20 technology stores.
I really think they're more like I tell you is they're really interesting curated experiences.
I know that's a very 2020 phrase, but they bring technology together in a way that makes it an experience, not just a place you shop.
I've seen that in beta work together in a partnership, primarily doing events and talks at some of their stores.
Just to put that out there.
VIBHU for our viewers of ours who have not had a chance to go to a beta, what is it?
What's it like when you arrive at one of your locations?
Well, beta is exactly, as you mentioned we're about 20 stores.
Focused on, I wouldn't just say technology I think we take the very best products across a lot of categories out of the box.
And we show people how they work.
And we've been doing this for five years.
We've showcased thousands of different new brands, oftentimes when a product arrives in our store with more than 50 from the time.
We are the only place in the country where you can actually see this product in person before you buy.
Okay, so you're like us, you love a scoop, you love to get something first and get it out there in front of people and capture their imagination.
Almost all of the best products over the last couple of years.
I would say.
You guys also work with some of the developers and partners who have created these products and sometimes they will have sort of a store within a store.
When I go to Beta, who am I dealing with?
So if you think about a typical retailer, when you walk in, what you're actually saying is that retailers opinion of, of how that price should be displayed how it should be talked about how it should be priced.
When you walk into a Beta store, you're seeing the brand's opinion.
And we do that through this business model we call retail service.
Were brands directly participate and kind of merchandising their space.
They do it through software.
And so to your question, you're typically if you come into the store, you might see what you think is a shopping shop or some other kind of branded zone for that product and that's been constructed by the company.
Inside of our stores, we are trying to eliminate the the opinion, if you will, on the bias, the physical retailer so that you're really seeing not only the best stuff, but the things that the way that those makers, product makers and.
Interesting and I think I'll be less polite than you.
I think you're trying to eliminate the stupidity.
Have many retailers who have a generalist staff that is often woefully under trained, and doesn't understand much about any of their products but knows a little bit about all their products and it drives manufacturers nuts because their story is not coming through with much punch.
Let alone a lot of accuracy.
I think it's an economic problem ultimately because most stores make their money by Martin up products that you that they're selling to right.
And that's how retail been done for since the beginning of time.
But what happens is retailers will prioritize showing you the things that they make the most money off, not necessarily the things that.
Are the best for you.
And in our business model, we pass all of the sales that we generate are sort of back to the brand.
So we're not favoring things that have better margins for us.
We're really favoring things that truly we think you're gonna get the most interesting.
So I think I'm starting to understand now the idea of retail as a service as you define it, because let's face it, that sounds like a very, very buzzworthy term, but.
I think I see the nuggets of what that really means and how that really is different.
You've got to have a lot of partners that are delighted to have this kind of ability to showcase themselves, but at the same time, how do you You create a an authentic sort of a trustworthy place, as opposed to a lion's den where I'm being thrown to the brands because sometimes we go to stores because we expect, let's say at a Best Buy, I expect the blue shirts to say look, here's the right product for you never mind what they all say.>> If you come to a beta store, What you really feel is our focus on primarily on education.
And, and our entire business is kind of built around making sure that you walk out of the store and formed but not necessarily having an opinion on whether you transact with us or somewhere else.
And I think that one of the ways that we've been able to do that is by really hiring and retaining the very best retail.
So we really look for people who want to engage with you and tell you about the things that they love.
They're in the store.
I'm not gonna call it Best Buy because not everyone that works there has permission and and that doesn't always mean that it's a bad experience but I do think, I think as a customer when you walk in somewhere you can feel, you know you walk into like a luxury Retailers sometimes you feel like they're pulling you into getting upgrading to something that was a little bit outside your price range or, being pulled in directions that are just a little unnatural.
Here is a very pure experience.
Like I said, If you wanna be helped, will be someone there to help you, if you want to just engage with the store on your own, that's fine.
And the other biggest difference between us and a lot of electronics stores globally at least is we have no boxes on display.
So every single thing that you see here in a beta store is we've it's a working real product.
I'm looking around my store here and I have electric bikes and one wheels and deeply speakers all these products are real and and you could go for it you can actually jump out of the store onto the street here and Go for a ride on the one wheel.
And that's your like, if we've done that for you, that's we're happy if you didn't buy the product, but you came here and had a great experience with something or even a bad experience, right?
And we helped you make a decision not to buy those are that is the whole purpose of our existence.
There's not a perfect analogy but you're taking a little bit of Apple genius, which is.
Now apples obviously in the business for Apple and you're in a very different sort of a horizontal, but it's the idea of coming in have the experience which Apple has been spending a lot of time on in the history of their stores, and then come away at some point wherever you buy the product.
We know you're going to be educated about Apple, which is as much about their stores as actually selling Or in your case you're maybe even a little more biased toward experience in education, it sounds like.
Like you mentioned, that stores to sell the brand not just a specific products, for a lot of brands here where the where the Apple Store for them and even if it's just a tiny slice where a store a lot of our brands have One or two feet of vert have kind of own vertical space.
But that little slice of the store is their own Apple Store.
Tell me a cut some stories about what has worked really well and then maybe what hasn't worked really well at beta.
What are like some of your hottest categories?
Really depends on the year and this year has been a really
Unusual year for retail, and, especially in our categories.
You've seen a, really big shift in a few areas like, you know, during the pandemic.
Working out at home is really big and there's, a huge boom, in new fitness devices for the home.
You know bought we have a product right over left corner here called fight camp is a.
A boxing gym for your house.
We have a total of our stores have a strength training device.
health in general is really big.
we don't just carry electronic health products.
The more you describe what's happening right now it really is.
Maybe what counter to what I would think about a beta.
These are all products without screens for the most part.
It's a very different category of tech than what most of us will think of which will be all kinds of displays and monitors and new kinds of tablets and interesting projectors.
You know,>> We have maybe a handful of PCs you Laptops, but well yeah 95% of the things I'm looking around here, they don't have a screen on that is kind of the wider world of electronics that's grown over the last decade, with Internet of things and connected products.
Yeah, smart home, sleep technology, brain computer interfaces.
I mean, look at the stuff that's exploding And I think that's what's so interesting.
Those are not following in the footsteps of existing categories we understand.
A lot of the proximately carry our category breaking they don't really fit into.
There's no place in traditional store where they fit like there's like even a connected thermostat.
I used to work at NASA before this company And there wasn't really a place to put because he put in the, like consumers don't typically look at thermostat that was usually installed by your professional and professional and so all these products need attention in a different way and and they're all like fairly complicated.
The average complexity of a product here is way higher than any other store in the world.
Because they have sensors they connect to your phone, they connect to your WiFi, have you know, we have a Pain control products as well like these are things that are really, really tough to understand you're sitting at home.
This will sound like a backhanded compliment, but it's actually a very strong one and you guys remind me a lot of the sharper image in the 80s When the sharper image was the place to go to check out new tech.
I grew up with Sharper Image like I'm always flattered by that comparison because that was the only store I liked going into to be honest.
Sharper image was the greatest Remember, it just had everything new and it was really high quality, interesting new innovations.
So my question for you is how do you make sure you stay
At the interesting innovative edge and not for whatever business pressures slide toward becoming a Brookstone,
I think it's just our timing, you know, like sharper image was building novel electronics in a time when it was really expensive to bring new products to market in this category.
You didn't have this entire industry that exists today where people are hacking in their garage and bringing new things to life, right?
Pretty much everything you saw Trevor image was something that Sharper Image themselves made for you.
And so like the kind of the pool overall of products that they could showcase was just really small.
Here we're in an industry that has now Every single year something like 20,000 products launching, right?
You probably been to-
Okay, yes, yeah.
Obviously say yes.
Couple of times, yeah.
That's the scale of industry just didn't exist when Chaperon was here.
And really, we don't make any of our own products.
So we're Really in the pandemic looking for the best stuff and there's just so much of it that there's always going to be hundred 200 300 really incredible things that we're really proud to bring here.
Last question for you boo is what's the rollout plan obviously at 20 or so stores we're taping right now in early September 2020 you You've got a small footprint compared to the giant retailers where most tech is sold.
Where do you plan to go next?
And how big do you need to get in your vision?
As we've kind of been building the company over time it started started
To be the case that, that all people are early adopters.
And when we started, we started in Palo Alto, where every single person was involved.
I was an early adopter, that a lot of technology there understand that well, but that's really becoming the case across the country, even outside of cities.
And it's time for us to, to really be more local to people and and, you know, I don't think that any retailer today would, you know start from scratch would would build a chain quite as large as some of the ones that that exists today.
But I think a really great retailer today will do two to 300 stores.
You'll see us starting to expand and especially expand outside of big urban centres.
Good I am glad to hear that because I think the tech saturation and the condensation of it we have in what four or five cities around the US is just as absurd.
There's so much great area where we have great minds great energy.
And it needs to be spread to these markets that we think are part of yesterday's economy, and most definitely shouldn't be and don't need to be.
We've been talking to Zebu Norby.
He is CEO and co founder of Beta
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