Experiential retail platform B8ta has finally expanded its Built by B8ta concept to apparel through the opening of Forum, a curated fashion and lifestyle pop-up platform.
Forum, which will leverage B8ta‘s Retail as a Service software platform, will open to the public on Nov. 15 at 8406 Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles. Visitors to the store can shop a merchandise mix including men’s and women’s apparel from emerging brands such as Culk, Unemployed Denim, footwear from Moral Code and bags from Behno.
The curation at Forum will also reflect a focus on ethical and sustainable newcomers, including Just Human sunglasses, size-inclusive eco-friendly women’s essentials from Poplinen, and Tact & Stone, a sustainable men’s clothing brand. The new experiential store will also be showcase local jewelry brands and lifestyle products, including handbag brand H-ology and anti-aging pillowcase sleeve firm Silked.
President and co-founder Phil Raub said the B8ta model was launched initially in the consumer electronics space because that was the background of most team members when the company launched in 2015. Since that time, however, B8ta has opened 18 branded flagship stores throughout the U.S. and will have 23 by year-end, as well as shop-in-shops like the ones found in select Macy’s stores.
And next month will bring the re-launch of two new Toys R’ Us stores, operated via a joint venture with B8ta for a “reimagined” format that will include some hands-on play with electronics and games. Given that some B8ta staff have also worked in the fashion industry—including Raub, whose past stints include Gap Inc.—moving to the fashion and accessories space was always on the agenda.
“We felt that if we could make it work in consumer electronics, our model could work in other verticals,” said Raub, who explained that it was only after operating 18 freestanding stores that the company has accumulated enough learnings to translate its proprietary software to other retail sectors.
“This is not rinse and repeat… While we understood [the fashion] industry, you [can’t] create the exact same [consumer electronics] scenario in apparel and lifestyle,” he said, noting that adjustments were made to the software because the retail platform itself needed to be different from the consumer electronics space.
For example, the foray into apparel means a departure from B8ta’s standard 2 ft. x 2 ft. footprint because apparel collections, with more stock keeping units, have larger space requirements. And the company’s differentiated software needed to be adjusted for different size runs, as well as different color assortments.
Plans are in place to deploy Forum to other states as the San Francisco-based company expands into new retail categories. “Some of the things that Amazon has done in the online space, we think we can do in the offline space,” Raub said.
The Melrose Ave. location spans approximately 1,500 square feet, large enough for a curated space that can house 30 to 40 brands, but that could scale slightly higher if there’s a greater mix of smaller brands—and therefore a smaller footprint requirement—versus larger ones during a rotation. Raub said the tenant mix will include rotating anchor tenants, along with local brands to build a community for local creative talent.
The lifestyle-oriented store will also include a selection of skincare and fragrance products. Central to the format will be the rotation of brands on a monthly basis, which helps foster an element of surprise. “When consumers are coming in, they’re not just buying tops and bottoms or a pair of shoes. They are looking for up-and-coming brands, product lines that they’re not familiar with—that’s the core element of discovery,” Raub said.
To keep the discovery element fresh, as well as build a sense of community, Raub said Forum will host events on a regular basis, as often as twice each quarter. Midway through the rotation, about every six weeks, the floor plan will shift to drive newness. That will include brands bringing in new product—all items are brought into the space on consignment—as well as the companies themselves possibly moving to different locations on the floor.
According to Raub, the brands pay for the space at Forum, and in return get B8ta’s backend systems, which includes use of its Retail as a Service software. B8ta also provides trained staff members who act as knowledgeable ambassadors for the brands. But it’s the proprietary software that’s key because it provides the retail tenants with data and analytics on performance, in-store engagement, impressions, dwell time and insights into how often garments visit the fitting rooms.
“We are working with the brands by highlighting what they are doing. They are also pushing traffic, using their [social media] platforms to do that,” Raub said. Forum assists on the social media front via an innovative dressing room experience powered by RFID technology that enable consumers to adjust the dress room backdrop to reflect their personal aesthetic and encourage social media sharing. They can also read about the brands and products, as well as request different colors and sizes through the in-room digital display.
“Shopping in general is a very social and engaging experience, [such as] a group of women on the weekend going out and shopping. That’s gotten lost in our rushed world. How do you incorporate that social environment in the fitting room? FaceTiming their friends to ask whether they like an outfit is one way to have fun with that,” Raub explained.
“We are so excited to be partnering with Forum in L.A.,” Denise Lee, founder and CEO of athleisure brand Alala, said. “L.A. is second, only to New York, in terms of our digital sales–so we have been wanting to have a presence here for a while. It made sense for us to partner with a company who is experienced in setting up curated pop-ups for this opportunity and we look forward to meeting and developing our L.A. community along with Forum.”
Amrita Thadani, founder of sustainable and ethical women’ apparel brand Neococo, said, “I believe brands with a social impact such as Neococo need a platform that enables consumers to shop consciously and make socially responsible choices.”
And Mark Kohlenberg, CEO of men’s footwear and small accessories brand Moral Code, added, “Moral Code is consistently seeing incredible growth in e-commerce and digital brand awareness, but our consumers are missing out on being able to interact with our products in real life. Forum is an ideal retail partner for Moral Code because the storefront allows us to reach new customers and gives them a chance to touch and feel the high-quality leather and construction of our handcrafted products.”