The story behind the early success of BrownMill Co., the Newark-based lifestyle brand that aims to create high-quality clothing and accessories while bridging the gap between streetwear and high fashion, checks off so many boxes of the typical entrepreneurial success story.
It began as a dream of its founder, Justis Pitt-Goodson, when he was still in the eighth grade — trying to figure out how to make any type of bowtie out of any type of fabric he could find.
It evolved enough through high school and college that Pitt-Goodson decided to drop out of Rutgers University – Newark to pursue his dream with a website.
It led to a few celebrity clients — which brought exposure and the ability to open a brick-and-mortar location in Newark.
And, like so many small businesses, it battled for its survival during the pandemic.
Here’s where the story takes a different twist: BrownMill not only made it through, its future growth plan comes with an assist from DoorDash.
The food-delivery people?
Well, yes — but, it’s not what you think.
While DoorDash certainly made a name for itself since its founding in 2013, the company said it always has viewed itself as a service for all small businesses.
In April 2020 — or about the time the pandemic and pandemic-restrictions were taking over the country — the company launched an accelerator program for small businesses that helped many get through the early stages of the crisis.
BrownMill recently joined the platform — and Pitt-Goodson is grateful it did.
Speaking at “The Cloud and the Corner Store,” a recent event at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Pitt-Goodson said DoorDash is helping to expand the company’s digital reach.
“The platform that DoorDash provides is instrumental to getting our products to people in other places,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us to engage with customers that wouldn’t know about us otherwise.”
Max Rettig, a vice president and head of public policy, said that’s what DoorDash always hoped to be.
“We started with restaurants, but the ambition is for every single local business to have an e-commerce channel and the ability to offer delivery,” he said. “And that’s really what we’re building as a company.”
Rettig said the company aims to give type of local brick-and-mortar store an e-commerce channel and the ability to offer deliveries so they can compete in an era where every business is expected to be able to deliver instantly.
DoorDash, which launched an Accelerator for Local Restaurants in 2020 that provides technical assistance and restaurant education that it feels will help small businesses adapt, grow and thrive, started an Accelerator for Local Goods in May 2022.
This accelerator helps empower aspiring entrepreneurs by providing funding, training and resources to help consumer packaged goods business owners grow their business through DashMarts.
DoorDash is offering geographically based cohorts for business (click here for more information), but, it also is offering online courses that business owners can take at their own pace (click here for more information).
The online module covers topics such as, “Financial Roadmap and Access to Capital” and “How to Scale Your Business.”
The efforts are working.
Last Spring, the owner of Nana Foods, who runs an herb and spice brand based in Newark inspired by the tastes from her childhood in Saint Lucia, participate in the cohort.
She is one of more than 100,000 small businesses in North America to be on the platform.
DoorDash officials did not supply numbers of how many non-restaurant businesses in Newark (or New Jersey) are using the platform, but a spokesperson did say it has had an 88% increase in independent merchants in New Jersey that joined Marketplace from December 2020 to December 2022.
Retailers get onto the site in a variety of ways.
“There’s a huge effort within DoorDash to reach out to different types of businesses, but, over time, we’re seeing more and more small businesses that get it, that know they need to have this e-commerce channel — so, there’s more inbound as well,” he said.
Once they are there, DoorDash is using the power of its huge brand to have local impact. While DoorDash is now a global brand, Rettig said the company has never forgotten its roots as a small business.
“It is a huge investment that we are making as a company,” he said. “Tons of resources go into making sure that consumers know that you can not only find your local restaurant or an enterprise restaurant, like McDonald’s, but you can also find BrownMill.”
Many of these businesses tend to be owned by women or people of color. All of them are vital to the nation’s economy, Rettig said.
“Small businesses still account for two-thirds of job creation,” he said. “So, if you’re talking about economic vitality and the vibrancy of local communities, you have to be talking about how you’re going to be investing in local small businesses, because those are the drivers of economic growth.”
Pitt-Goodson and BrownMill are all in.
“We’re working on a rollout for the partnership and next couple of weeks to advertise and promote it heavily,” he said. “So, really excited about what it means for our business.”
Even if it isn’t a restaurant.
Rettig understands the confusion. He had it, too. Now, he said, he understands the company’s full commitment to small business retailers.
“When I was on the outside, before I joined DoorDash, I thought, this is just a food app — what could possibly go into this,” he said. “Once you’re inside the business, you see how much engineering and logistics and operations it takes to do this.”
The goal, Rettig said, is to level the playing field and make the power of the DoorDash platform, and the marketing that goes with it, available to everyone.
“That is really the fulfillment of our original vision as a company,” he said. “So, it’s really exciting to see it come to fruition.”