St. Anthony: Minneapolis entrepreneur heads effort on Shopify network for social, sustainable enterprises

Chris Dykstra, the veteran software entrepreneur, is rolling with his GoodCarts.

GoodCarts is a Shopify channel that links retailers that are both “purpose-driven and sustainable.”

GoodCarts, owned by and embedded in Dykstra’s Warecorp, has so far linked through its app network about 400 e-commerce brands nationally. It got significant exposure this month from a Shopify blog by GoodCarts CEO Steven Clift, a social-enterprise veteran.

“The idea behind GoodCarts empowers people to have impact by discovering new sustainable and ethical brands,” Clift wrote. “Like Shopify, GoodCarts is on a mission to make a difference. The end goal is to create a community of sustainable-product and social-impact e-commerce retailers who empower people to shop their values.”

When consumers buy something through a GoodCarts network retailer, they receive an exclusive discount for another brand in the network.

Marketers have observed that consumers increasingly favor products and services that enhance the environment and better the human condition. That is a big reason big box retailers carry them.

While some of these sustainable enterprises are large — think Seventh Generation, Ben and Jerry’s or Patagonia — a lot are small companies, often female-run and financed on a shoestring.

Deloitte Insights in 2019 noted that “purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow on average three times faster than their competitors, while achieving higher employee and customer satisfaction.”

The companies, Deloitte said, also achieve “loyalty, consistency and relevance in the lives of consumers.”

GoodCarts offers a free-for-now service, including promotional coupons for its 400 retail members, that helps grow business while avoiding the rising cost of Facebook ads. It’s likely that Warecorp will start charging small commissions eventually, or sell upgraded products and services to member retailers to resume revenue.

“GoodCarts is developing a captive audience first by delivering something of great value to our members,” Clift said. “In the meantime, we are developing products and services that serve our network of e-commerce brands.”

The GoodCarts coupon code is the most used Shopify discount for Carla Scholz, whose Soak It Up reusable sponge cloths are designed to take the place of 1,500 paper towels.

Joy McBrien’s Fair Anita since 2015 has sold jewelry, accessories and clothing made of recycled materials by impoverished women who work in cooperatives in Latin America and Africa.

McBrien said she loves the GoodCarts model, and the coupons are “like a bonus.”

“They’ve been lovely to partner with and we’ve seen some sales,” McBrien said. “I see a lot of potential. We focus on cooperation, particularly with other social enterprises and fair-trade businesses.”

Dykstra, 60, is an artist-turned-software-jockey who concluded, on a 1980s trip to impoverished Nicaragua through Augsburg University’s Center for Global Education, that business should serve more than just owners. In the 1980s, he built and sold a silk-screening business. In the 1990s, he learned software skills and worked for web developers. He then worked in Europe for a provider of outsourced software talent.

Dykstra started Warecorp in 2004. It has grown to about $5 million in revenue and has 80 employees in Minneapolis and Eastern Europe.

“We have a portfolio of growth and established businesses,” Dykstra said. “And we are involved in startups, such as GoodCarts and the social impact world through the American Sustainable Network. I’m heading toward a chairman-type role.”

Jerome Hamilton, a veteran manager, joined Warecorp as chief operating officer in 2019. Hamilton and Dykstra are also partners in Brown Venture Group, which has raised nearly $50 million to invest in Black, Latino and Indigenous tech startups.

Dykstra said he may eventually spin off GoodCarts. Its mission fits with his own philosophy that small, mission-aligned retailers can promote themselves better and more economically through networks, rather than increasingly costly ads on platforms such as Facebook and Google.

Warecorp was making money off of GoodCarts. But when the pandemic hit, Dykstra decided to stop collecting commissions. The network has been a success with a 95% retention rate and “an incredible click-through rate that is unheard of in advertising.”

“The American Sustainable Network needs to do more deals [with one another’s businesses],” Dykstra said. “Quit mortgaging your house to buy Facebook and Google ads. Use Facebook and Google to drive people to your website. Trade traffic. Nobody spends money but everybody gets a new customer.”

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