Geekdom startup Braustin Mobile Homes wants to become a national brand. The online mobile home dealership is pinning its hopes on virtual and augmented reality to do that.

Earlier this month, the company opened a virtual sales center at a New Braunfels H-E-B. The 300-square-foot outpost inside the grocery store features virtual reality goggles and mobile devices that allow customers to have the experience of walking through a Braustin mobile home model. As the company aims to expand to West Texas, the New Braunfels sales center will serve to test Braustin’s plan for scaling up.

The more customers the outpost brings in, the more confidence Braustin will have in its plan to become a multiple-state entity.

The Braustin Mobile Homes virtual sales center at a New Braunfels H-E-B.

“This is really a beta test for a West Texas expansion,” co-founder Alberto Piña said. “H-E-B [is] the most trusted brand in Texas. Plus, it’s a place people have to go to at least twice a month to get their groceries. We thought if we could create a fun experience that made it easier to buy a home that would be helpful for the folks that maybe aren’t as comfortable buying strictly online or over the phone.”

Customers can point their phones at photographs inside the outpost to watch augmented-reality-enabled videos or aim their smartphone cameras at framed copies of Braustin floor plans to see an overhead view of what the home’s interior could look like fully furnished. Put on the goggles, and customers can take a virtual tour of a model home for any of Braustin’s 30 floor plans.

Piña will be at the New Braunfels outpost for the next month or so to figure out what the future of the virtual sales model looks like. Two weeks after launching in the H-E-B store at 1655 Highway 46 West, Piña said he likes what he sees.

He has had one homebuyer apply to buy a home after entering the virtual outpost, and another family is nearing its decision, he said.

The virtual outposts are also cheaper to stand up, Piña said.

“We could do 12 of these for the cost of one traditional dealership,” he said.

“Our goal is to keep sales, management, operations, everything centralized, so we can maintain our culture, maintain accountability,” Piña said. “And it’s just more cost-effective. The challenge was how do we scale our brand and our presence without diluting our staff.”

Braustin Mobile Homes, which has become one of Geekdom’s fastest-growing companies, sold 35 homes in 2017, 74 in 2018, and the company is on pace to sell 120 homes this year, Piña said.

Braustin Mobile Homes co-founder Alberto Piña demonstrates an augmented-reality-enabled video.

The company’s sales team is based in downtown San Antonio at co-working space Geekdom. It has a physical dealership in South San Antonio but largely conducts its sales by phone or online. Braustin has been giving its 360-degree virtual reality tours of its home models since it launched in 2017 with the aim of bringing accountability to the mobile home industry.

Having a broader presence along the Interstate 35 corridor will give the company access to a growing number of residents that may be shopping for a mobile home in light of the rising cost of traditional housing in Austin and San Antonio, Piña said.

Just two weeks into this new phase of the company’s growth, Piña said he has seen enough to know that he will likely set up a virtual outpost in San Antonio in the future, but for now the company has its sights set on selling mobile homes to the residents of Permian Basin cities such as Odessa, where the booming oil and gas industry has priced people out of traditional single-family homes and led to a housing shortage.

Piña is hopeful it works, as the future of Braustin revolves around the success of its virtual sales strategy.

“Our industry is divided,” Pina said. “They either think we’re crazy or think we are onto something. But for us, we see this 100 percent as the future of where we’re going.”

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.