You b8ta believe it

10 futuristic products you can buy today in this Galleria store that's flipping the script on retail

B8ta has all the perks of a digital marketplace — but customers are able to physically test all the products. Photo by Natalie Harms

Retail is in a transformative phase, as more and more consumers are shopping online. According to United States Census data, over 9 percent of this year's first-quarter retail sales were e-commerce transactions — that's more than doubled in less than 10 years. But one brick-and-mortar retailer has a new approach to sales for new, innovative products entering the marketplace.

San Francisco-based b8ta opened its first store in 2015, and now has 13 flagship stores nationwide — in addition to having setups in Lowe's stores across the country. Houston's first and only location opened in October of 2017 in the Galleria.

The store acts as a general marketplace, where companies can rent shelf space at the store to feature their products — everything from home accessories to tech gadgets and even items like electric skateboards. Consumers can come into the store and test products, and the developers can see — in real time — how customers are interacting with their products.

"If you look at our store, nothing's in a box. Everything is out on display," says Jalal Bsaiso, b8ta Houston's general manager. "Everything has a tablet with information on the product, and that data is controlled by the maker — they can swap photos, change pricing, all on the fly. They also can see analytics in real time. They can see how many people walk by their product and how long they are engaging. Sales associates log demos we do with the customer, so the partner can see that too."

Bsaiso says that innovators have trouble entering brick-and-mortar sales because consumers need to take the products out of the box to experience them and have a sales associate educate and demonstrate how to use the product. The company's three founders — Phillip Raub, Vibhu Norby, and William Mintun — worked at Nest, a smart home technology product, prior to launching b8ta. They saw Nest struggle to get into brick-and-mortar stores and started envisioning a concept that would be right for products like Nest.

"Online it's easy to sell something," Bsaiso says. "You post it on your website, you have analytics, and you can see how people got to your website and what they purchased. There's nothing like that in physical retail."

Product makers can apply online to become b8ta partners. Usually, each partner has products in at least half of the 13 stores, and every product has an inventory of six to 10 products in the store.

"Retail is evolving," Bsaiso says. "I think everything is moving toward experience. You don't want to spend $200 online on a product that might not even work for you from a company you're not really familiar with."

The store will stock any types of products in its stores, as long as it fits the bill as an innovative product. Here are 10 that seem like are from the future.

A self-caring herb garden

Photo by Natalie Harms

The Véritable Indoor Garden has lights that mimics the sun and a tank of water that together lets your plants be all set for up to 3 weeks.

A camera with 16 lenses

Photo by Natalie Harms

The Light L16 camera would make a spider jealous. With 16 lenses, the camera captures all the different types of lighting and focus to ensure you capture the best picture.

A gadget to make you fluent in every language

Photo by Natalie Harms

Here's one for the world traveler. Pocketalk Two-Way Voice Translator allows you to translate what someone is trying to tell you, and vice versa.

A collar that tells you everything you need to know about Fido

Photo by Natalie Harms

The LINK AKC™ Smart Dog Classic Collar tells you everything from location and body temperature to even recording activity.

A device that swims for you

Photo by Natalie Harms

Going on an underwater adventure? The WHITESHARK MIX Underwater Scooter is the smallest underwater scooter and takes you 3.35 miles per hour with its two propellers.

A shark-preventing ankle band

Photo by Natalie Harms

The Sharbanz technology prevents any nefarious sharks from coming anywhere close to you.

A robot to talk to your child

Photo by Natalie Harms

Tyche AI Learning Robot for Kids learns your child's facial expression, name, and voice to communicate, educate, and interact with him or her.

A next-gen speaker that features the song's lyrics

Photo by Natalie Harms

Ever wonder what that one lyric is in your favorite song? COTODAMA Lyric Speaker will tell you. In addition to featuring the lyrics of most popular songs, the speaker will visualize any tune you queue.

A deep tissue massager the size of headphones

Photo by Natalie Harms

The UGYM mini Deep Tissue Massager vows to relieve back pain and help you sleep better. And, it's on sale.

A handheld smart safety device

Photo by Natalie Harms

Much like your actual father, D.A.D.® 2 (Defense Alert Device), is here to keep you safe. It tracks your location and can send an emergency alert on your behalf. Plus, there's also the military-grade pepper spray to also keep an attacker at bay.

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Building Houston

 
 

A new report finds Houston a top city for business friendliness and connectivity. Photo via Getty Images

Houston, the future looks bright.

A new study from the fDi Intelligence division of the Financial Times places Houston at No. 7 among the top major cities of the future for 2021-22 across North, South, and Central America. Among major cities in the Americas, Houston appears at No. 3 for business friendliness and No. 4 for connectivity.

"Houston is known as one of the youngest, fastest-growing, and most diverse cities anywhere in the world. I am thrilled that we continue to be recognized for our thriving innovation ecosystem," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is quoted as saying in the fDi study.

Toronto leads the 2021-22 list of the top major cities in the Americas, followed by San Francisco, Montreal, Chicago, and Boston.

The rankings are based on data in five categories:

  • Economic potential
  • Business friendliness
  • Human capital and lifestyle
  • Cost effectiveness
  • Connectivity

Houston's no stranger to the list. Last year, the city ranked No. 3 on the same study, and in 2019, claimed the No. 5 spot.

"The fact that Houston consistently ranks among the top markets for foreign direct investment speaks to our region's connectivity and business-friendly environment," says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer at the Greater Houston Partnership. "Many of the industry sectors we target for expansion and relocation in Houston are global in nature — from energy 2.0 and life sciences to aerospace and digital tech. The infrastructure and diverse workforce that make these prime growth sectors for us among domestic players are equally attractive to international companies looking to establish or strengthen ties in the Americas."

International trade is a cornerstone of the Houston area's economy. In 2020, the region recorded $129.5 billion in exports, according to the Greater Houston Partnership. China ranked as the region's top trading partner last year, followed by Mexico, Brazil, Korea, Germany, the Netherlands, India, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Italy.

Houston's role as a hub for foreign trade and international business "is likely to support the region's economic recovery in the months and years ahead," the partnership noted in May.

"We talk often of Houston as a great global city — one that competes with the likes of London, Tokyo, São Paulo, and Beijing. But that's only possible because of our infrastructure — namely our port — and our connections around the world," Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the partnership, said last month. "Houston's ties abroad remain strong."

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