This Top Model Runs The Nation’s Oldest African-American Owned Business
From top model to top entrepreneur.
More than just a pretty face, Dominique Brooks, best known as a fashion model and cast member on America's Next Top Model, cycle 10 and cycle 17 (all-stars), is the co-owner of the nation’s oldest African-American owned business, E.E. Ward Moving and Storage.
The company, which was founded in 1881, survived slavery and is a provider of professional relocation services for corporate employee relocation, commercial office moves and consumer residential moves. They recently partnered up with Richard Petty Motorsports and launched a new clothing line, 1881 Apparel.
“I am proud of E.E. Ward’s story of surviving slavery, the U.S. Civil War, Great Depression, The Great Recession, two World Wars and 26 presidential terms. We are grateful to be recognized as one of the most reliable and charitable multi-million dollar moving companies nationwide,” said co-owner Dominique Reighard-Brooks.
E.E. Ward has received multiple awards for its high level of service, philanthropic activities and business innovation. Awards include OMSDC MBE Supplier of the Year Award, BBB of Central Ohio's Torch Award (three of them), Corporate Caring Human Services Award, Diversity in Business Award and the highly coveted Agent of the Year Service Excellence Award from the American Moving & Storage Association (AMSA).
She is currently based in Columbus Ohio, which is her hometown. In addition to being on Top Model, she was the face of Carol's Daughter. She is living proof that you can pivot from one industry to the next and still find success by fusing your talents, passion for creativity, life experiences and connections. Working in the entertainment industry and life's adversities help prepare her to run a multi-million-dollar company, E.E. Ward Moving & Storage, alongside her husband, Brian Brooks.
I spoke with Dominique Brooks about the transition from a fashion model to a entrepreneur, and the pressure of owning the oldest African-American owned business.
What were the challenges you faced when you transition from a model to entrepreneur?
There was not a big adjustment period or challenge for me when it came to making an impact at EE Ward. Over the years my husband always brought his work home, as so did I. We’ve always leaned on each other for advice, suggestions or out of the box ideas. I learned a lot from my husband about the industry over the years, and I feel like I am still learning new things every day.
The industry is changing and growing day to day because of technology. My fresh perspective on the industry has been very helpful because I am not tied to the way things have always been done in our industry, and I am always curious to how we can do things differently in order to become more effective and efficient. My husband embraced this as it's our collaborations of ideas that keeps us fresh and cutting edge. My husband and I were good about recognizing each other’s talents and strengths. We're constantly ping-ponging ideas back and forth from each other and are quick to lean on one other when needed.
I also like to think of myself as a novice. I am always looking for opportunities through industry organizations like AMSA (American Moving & Storage Association) who offer certifications in our industry. Last Year I graduated as a part of the 2018 Leaders Program, which has been essential in keeping our team and me at E.E.Ward in tune with the current trends and industry best practices.
E.E. Ward Moving and Storage is the nation’s oldest African-American owned business. Do you feel any pressure to keep it successful because of the longevity of the business?
I feel a great sense of responsibility to ensure that the legacy of our business is never forgotten and that our company continues to experience growth and expansion in other markets, as well as developing the layers of our brand as we experience this growth. The summer of 2018 I recently opened another E.E.Ward location in Charlotte, North Carolina and hope to expand in other markets in the future.
E.E.Ward’s history of being the Oldest Continuously Operating Black-Owned Business in America is a story about phenomenal entrepreneurship and still gives me chills when I wake every morning to go to work. John T. Ward was a conductor on the underground railroad prior to establishing E.E. Ward Moving & Storage in 1881 with just his two horses and a wagon. What he embarked on in 1881 matters today, and because of him, I know what we do today will matter tomorrow. Fast forward 137 years later, the legacy of enduring slavery, the U.S. Civil War, Great Depression, two World Wars and 26 presidential terms is truly extraordinary.
I recently launched 1881 Apparel line, which embodies the entrepreneurial spirit and the iconic history of the Ward family. It is important that we share African American stories like this that are now a part of American history. Now everyone can wear a piece of history that inspires them to write their own script, dream big and take action. I want to share the motto, if Ward can, then I can! 1881 Apparel is a brand with meaning that inspires others to expand their vision of life, business and to realize there are endless possibilities.
Can you explain the importance for people in the entertainment industry to get into different business ventures while they are at the prime of their careers?
I think it is essential for everyone, not just entertainers, to consider diversification of income and to expand their vision of life and business. At the same time, I know it can be a challenging transition when society likes to put people that have been in the entertainment world in a box and to label them as just an "entertainer." I say don't sell yourself short. You are more than what you do, and we all have layers, so explore them.
In my life time I hope to explore many possibilities in business outside what I have done and what I am currently doing. I am dreaming big! I really would like to encourage other entertainers not to get stuck, comfortable or become complacent. I think we all have an incredible amount of gifts, talents, ideas and creativity that a lot of us haven't even tapped in to. It is our responsibility, and no one else, while we are on this earth to explore and to bring forth all the treasures hidden deep within us. But it won't be possible until to we are willing to remove all labels that society places on us, and even the ones we place on ourselves. It's time our society gets rid of this limited mindset and starts celebrating the service industry and other genres of work as being dignified, meaningful, successful, of value and exciting.
I have worked what society calls "cool jobs" while on America's Next Top Model and in the entertainment world, but I have always strongly believed that it was me that made the opportunity exciting, brought it value and not the job making me! I never let the praise, excitement or the acknowledgment go to my head, as well as it never fulfilled me. Personal development, loving the person I am on the inside, my family, philanthropy and deciding to live unbound is what was most fulfilling to me. Not just my career! I am more than my career. At some point, we all have to evolve, and we should celebrate others who explore and venture out into other industries that aren't necessarily glorified through the media.
For example, I like to think that running a logistics company isn't the sexiest or exciting business until I showed up! I believe in my power to create and turn whatever I do into gold. No matter what job you have or industry you are in, it's you that brings the magic and makes it dynamic, not the job! Every job across America is incredible, and the people working these jobs are what brings it value and makes them dynamic!
I take great pride in the work I do each day and even more so now than when I was the entertainment world. I have more substance in my life; I am making an impact by changing lives through my staff, our customers and community. Taking personal inventory over my life and writing down my strengths and acknowledging my value has been the recipe for success that I like to share with others. I want to be proof that you can pivot from one industry to the next and still find success by fusing your talents, life experiences, adversities and connections.
What are the pros and cons working with your husband?
Entrepreneurship can be a hard and lonely road, so it’s great we have each other to lean on. I feel so blessed to have a strong partnership in marriage and businesses. Working together honestly feels so re-energizing because it works for us! Plus, there is incredible power when two are making moves as one, and when husband and wife see the value in each others' strengths, ideas, goals and dreams. I say this because no matter what the relationship is, one thing is for sure: doubt from others, each other and self-doubt can be the killer of dreams, a business, opportunities and some of the best ideas. There is no room for doubt or ego in entrepreneurship.
For us, it works because we believe in what we're working toward wholeheartedly. My husband has always been my number one fan and cheerleader since the day we met, and vice versa. We go hard for each other! The only con is it’s hard to turn off the business at home.
You partner up with many nonprofit organizations to give back to children in underprivileged areas. When was the moment you wanted to make a difference in the community?
Philanthropy and giving back is one life’s greatest rewards and has always been our way life! Over the past decade, my family and I have always offered our time and resources to give back. I believe if you want a make a difference, start right where you are — your home and in your own community. Over the years I have work with and partnered with many non-profit organizations that raise awareness about issues faced by women, our wounded servicemen and children; organizations such as the Gary Sinise Foundation RISE Program, In Christy’s Shoes, Childhood League, Girls on the Run and facilitating Dream Big Workshops ( vision boarding) for children in underprivileged areas. Also, I oversee our own Fundraiser Laps For Learning, which we partnered with YMCA. It's a swimathon hosted by E.E. Ward Moving & Storage to fund swim lessons and water safety classes for children in underprivileged areas in Columbus. Ohio’s youth drownings increase 119 percent during the summer months, and it is vital to help reduce this number.
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