How 1 Woman Strategically Used Her Talents to Go From ‘Top Model’ to Top Entrepreneur

Talk about a career change: Dominique Reighard-Brooks started on “America’s Next Top Model.” Today, she co-owns E.E. Ward, the oldest black-owned business in America.

Candice Helfand-Rogers By Candice Helfand-Rogers

To the outside observer, it may appear as though Dominique Reighard-Brooks performed a professional 180 with her 2014 career change. But she finds plenty of crossover between modeling and moving. (Credit: Kristen Yates)

To the outside observer, it may appear as though Dominique Reighard-Brooks performed a professional 180 with her 2014 career change. But she finds plenty of crossover between modeling and moving. (Credit: Kristen Yates)

Dominique Reighard-Brooks is a mover, in every sense of the word.

She is presently the co-owner of award-winning moving company E.E. Ward, which is also America’s oldest black-owned business. But her career began with a lengthy run on the popular reality show competition “America’s Next Top Model,” and soared when she graced the pages of publications like Ebony and Seventeen. Then, she signed on at E.E. Ward in 2014, working alongside her husband, Brian.

To the outside observer, it may appear as though Reighard-Brooks performed a professional 180. “It’s not the sexiest business,” she freely admits. But she finds plenty of crossover between modeling and moving.

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“Being a self-starter, whether in the entertainment world or working in the logistics industry, means you’ve got to be willing to take action,” she explains. When you’re a model, singer and actress, you need to learn about marketing, self-promotion and persistence — all of which comes in handy when you’re running a company.

And in Reighard-Brooks’ case, when you’re trying to “enhance and re-energize the family business,” as she puts it, knowing a few secrets from the entertainment industry is helpful. After all, even a 138-year-old company needs to cultivate a fresh appearance on social media. Under her direction, E.E. Ward maintains an active — some might even say surprisingly glamorous, for a moving company — presence on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

In the years since Reighard-Brooks made her career change and joined E.E. Ward, the company has racked up a number of new awards for quality service, and she recently oversaw its first expansion outside of its home state of Ohio.

From Top Model to Top Entrepreneur

Reighard-Brooks was born and raised in the Columbus area by a family full of entrepreneurs, from her mother to her grandparents. At age 24, she found fame as a contestant on the 2008 cycle of “America’s Next Top Model.” Though she did not win the season — she placed fourth overall — her participation was a springboard into a busy modeling and performing career. In addition to appearing in popular magazines, she modeled for fragrance J’Adore and served as the face of Brooklyn beauty brand Carol’s Daughter.

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She relished those opportunities, but they frequently took her abroad, and she missed her husband and children while on shoots. So she contemplated a career change that would keep her closer to home. “I wanted to explore, evolve, and use other gifts and talents that were lying dormant,” she says. So, “I made a list of everything — every skill set, every relationship I’d developed over the years in entertainment, all of that.”

That personal assessment led her to team up with her husband, who had owned E.E. Ward since 2001 after buying it from his godfather, a member of the Ward family. Not everyone, of course, gets to choose such a relatively easy path into entrepreneurship. But Reighard-Brooks believed her experience would be an asset to the family business. “In my life, I’ve been a model, a singer, a writer, a video producer, a photo editor, a writer.” she says. “And I use all of those experiences in running the business.”

Reighard-Brooks helms a bustling operation. She manages a 50-person team — 70 strong when they hire part-time work during their busiest times — spread between its Columbus, Ohio headquarters and its Grove City, Ohio hub. Under her leadership, the company expanded outside Ohio to Charlotte, North Carolina. She declined to disclose revenue figures, but says the company handles several thousand moves and deliveries each year, for both residential and commercial clients.

In addition, Reighard-Brooks is responsible for all of the content E.E. Ward produces — from social media posts and marketing campaigns to the development of its video content. A striking figure with long brunette hair, she frequently appears on E.E.Ward’s Instagram feed as the face of the company.

And in yet another unusual move for a moving company, she has also tapped into her fashion experience to launch a clothing division called 1881 Apparel. Launched last year as an offshoot of E.E. Ward, the venture “pays homage to the Ward family legacy.” The company, which sells tees and sweaters, is in its earliest stages, but Reighard-Brooks believes it has the potential to elevate the E.E. Ward brand.

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Creating a Ripple Effect

When she joined E.E. Ward, Reighard-Brooks says she was wanted to cultivate the company’s unique position in history as the longest-lasting black business. She has directed the company’s ongoing involvement in philanthropic endeavors, such as its Laps for Learning fundraiser at the local YMCA. It emphasizes pool safety and has provided 393 lessons for low-income children to date.

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“We were founded on giving back to our community, and giving back is so important,” Reighard-Brooks says. “Our community is our foundation — it’s where we employ from, where we get our customers from.”

The story behind the company’s work takes center stage as she conceives of ways to bring in new customers and maintain relationships with old ones. In addition to the apparel line, she envisions children’s books and a documentary that chronicle E.E. Ward’s history down the line.

For her, the company’s success is about the past as much as it is about the future. “I feel a huge responsibility, and not just to be successful.” And she’s confident that her own history will help her realize that goal. “Working in the entertainment world really empowered me to be an entrepreneur.”

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Posted: January 24, 2019

Candice Helfand-RogersHow 1 Woman Strategically Used Her Talents to Go From ‘Top Model’ to Top Entrepreneur