The Magnolia Empire: A Case Study of Chip and Joanna Gaines
I relate to many business owners in different ways, but when I began watching Fixer Upper on HGTV almost five years ago, I knew I liked these entrepreneurs. I also know that I had found a new favorite TV show, but now I've had the chance to visit Waco, TX to do a case study on their empire there is even more to love.
Maybe you’ve heard of them - Chip and Joanna Gaines? They’re the founders of the Magnolia empire of businesses in Waco, Texas and their Fixer Upper show first aired on May 23, 2013. Since then they have become American celebrities.
If you’re not familiar, let me paint a picture of this entrepreneur couple…
Chip is fearless, skillful, and hilariously, well - Chip! He has been an entrepreneur from a very young age and had owned multiple businesses by the time he met Joanna. And Joanna is a designer with an incredible eye who responds to Chip with adoration, always laughing at his silly comments and stunts, and constantly cheering him on.
— Magnolia (@magnolia) March 7, 2018
Watching them work together as they bought, remodeled, flipped, and completely transformed homes I began to fall in love with not only her style and his ability to do everything, but their wholesome relationship and family lifestyle.
⇒ In many ways Chip even reminds me of my husband, and watching Jo respond to him has even encouraged me to respond better to my man. To roll with the punches, be an encourager, and appreciate him for the way God made him.
And that isn’t all. As a student of business and entrepreneurship I began watching their story unfold as they had ideas and pursued them. Their dreams were always worth the effort and I know I wasn’t the only one who was inspired by their go-get-‘em spirit.
A quintessential American pursuit
Their story really is the quintessential American pursuit of happiness, passion, and doing what you love only to have it become a huge, successful reality. But their now mega-business empire was a long journey, not an overnight success as we may expect from their sensational TV show. As with all entrepreneurs, the dedication and conviction and determination is daily journey.
When they got back from their honeymoon in 2003, it was the task of remodeling and redecorating one of Chip’s rental properties (to make into their first home together) that inspired Jo to open “the little shop on Bosque Boulevard” (which they later closed and have just reopened in March of 2018 as the Magnolia Warehouse Shop located at 3801 Bosque Blvd, Waco, TX 76710; open Thurs-Sat during select times and offering last chance items & slightly damaged products at a discount).
Over the years we’ve watched Chip and Jo not only inspire the design and house-flip industry, but they have also pursued the purchase of “the Silos” then opened Magnolia Market at the Silos and the Silos Baking Co., and now Magnolia Table (off Valley Mills Dr.) all of which are episodes on their hit HGTV show. And their businesses and opportunities haven’t stopped there, oh no.
At Magnolia Realty they currently lead a large team of over 100 real estate agents serving Waco, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, Houston, Temple-Belton, and San Antonio. If you’re visiting Waco and need a place to sleep, they even have two properties (Hillcrest Estate and the Magnolia House) available to reserve for a minimum 2-night stay.
Between Magnolia Home Furniture, the Hearth & Hand product line available at Target, Magnolia Journal – their own quarterly magazine, Magnolia Seed and Supply at the Silos, and now three books: The Magnolia Story, Capital Gaines, and the Magnolia Table Cook Book I can’t imagine how many business decisions they face on a daily or even weekly basis.
No matter what they do, no matter what dream they are pursuing, they have done it together continuing forward in each adventure with what must be an incredible team of people helping them behind the scenes.
An experience worth the hype
April 22nd - 24th of 2018 I took the pilgrimage to Waco to experience it for myself and it did not disappoint. The following is a recount of that experience...
First off, let me just say that this trip was a fairly last minute opportunity I was able to take with my sister-in-law and cousin. We had miles to burn and all three were able to pull the trigger on this particular couple of nights very quickly. All that said, we may not have been there for the most ideal days of the week to experience everything, but it was exactly what it was supposed to be.
Magnolia businesses are closed on Sunday.
Perhaps due in majority to their faith, yet also with their focus on family values and with employer benefits in mind, all Magnolia business locations and companies are closed on Sunday (with the exception of their realty agent schedules, I’d imagine). So, when we arrived at our hotel on Sunday (three blocks away from the silos) while I knew I’d walk over and see Magnolia in person, I also knew I was only going to get a feel for the property in general.
Honestly? The silos are huge, but everything seems bigger on TV and standing outside of the locked gates, I felt like the market, bakery and lawn were all smaller than expected. (That changed when I returned on Monday, however.)
You can peer into the bakery and through the property gates to get an idea of what you’ll experience – the layout, style, design and décor, size, and brand approach.
Through the fence, you can also get a glimpse of the Seed and Supply building, adjacent gardens, lawn and food trucks on the opposite side of the grounds. And let me tell you, it’s beautiful!
Monday at Magnolia Table [2132 S Valley Mills Dr, Waco, TX 76706]
Chip and Joanna really don’t have small visions. So, when Chip’s dream of owning a “breakfast joint” became a possibility, they went for it. [see the story here]
First, a bit of history:
The building was a beloved Waco cafe called The Elite for almost 100 years. When the doors closed, Chip and Jo swept in transforming the interior into a light, bright, open, and overall beautiful restaurant. It took them close to 18 months and Magnolia Table opened in April of 2018.
Waiting to put our name in:
When my sisters and I arrived there was about a 20-minute wait to add our name to the wait list. It was a beautiful morning and everyone in line seemed happy to be there. A few Magnolia employees made the time pass quickly with joyful attitudes, stories, explanation of what to expect, and light-hearted humor. That was my first impression of their attention to detail and customer service. I felt like I was in line at Disneyland – awaiting an experience I had anticipated for years.
After putting our name in we were given an hour and fifteen-minute wait time and invited to enjoy the Patio area where coffees, juices and pastries were available for purchase while you await your reservation time. There is also the Take Away and Market on the opposite side of the restaurant where food, coffee, and all kinds of products and souvenirs could be purchased.
Every experience I had with an employee was impressive. They were friendly, happy, and offered to take our picture, or answer questions.
The Take Away and Market (take out area) & Patio:
We decided to head to the Take Away and Market to order coffee and look around. I purchased a handcrafted pottery mug, we got our picture taken, and then headed out to the patio to sit in the sunshine.
On the Patio we struck up conversation with a couple who had made the journey from Atlanta and quickly passed the time until we received the text that our table was ready some 30-minutes earlier than expected. Under promise and over deliver? Always a plus. Way to go Magnolia Table.
Where I get it from…
For those who don’t know it, my father has been a restaurant manager and critic for almost as long as I’ve been alive. While I was growing up it would not be unusual for my brother and me to cringe as dad called over the manager at any restaurant we were eating at only to give feedback on how they were performing. (And it still happens to this day.)
It was with that upbringing that I learned insights about the restaurant industry, how not having keen attention to detail can be a deal breaker, and why excellence in not only service but the customer experience will make or break an eatery.
All about the details
The bathroom was beautiful. I know, I know. This seems like a silly place to start, but clean facilities really do tell you something about the care taken in a business, let alone a restaurant. [The only feedback we had for Magnolia Table’s restrooms is to add a shelf inside the ladies room stalls so that purchases, bags, and purses don’t have to be placed on the floor. Since the restaurant is so new, I’m sure this feedback will be welcomed.] The style and details though, were gorgeous.
In the restaurant, the tables were pre-set with classic cafe forks and knives and thick napkins with the restaurant’s name placed simply at the bottom in their signature black font. The glasses, table, seats, silverware were all clean and the water carafe had a simple “Magnolia Table” type in mint green font – another detailed touch.
One of the unique things Chip and Jo included at each table is a leather pouch which they invite you to use for storing electronic devices (mainly cell phones) during the meal. They want to encourage their guests to share in conversation, put down technology, and get back to relationship. I love that, although it didn’t stop me from keeping my phone handy for photos! You’re welcome… 😉
Now, about Breakfast!
Our server was all smiles when she arrived at our table. She greeted us, poured us all water from the carafe and asked if we had any questions. A few short minutes later she returned for our order and within 10-15 minutes breakfast arrived.
You should know, breakfast is one of my favorite meals. I enjoy getting up on Saturday and Sunday to cook a hearty, warm, delicious spread for my husband and myself just like my mama and my Granny used to. Whether it be Jimmy Dean, eggs, and an English muffin, egg or crab benedict, or biscuits and gravy – I’m a fan of a solid home-cooked meal to start a weekend day – and always coffee, of course.
That said, it was hard to choose from their menu, but having a choice between breakfast and lunch I knew I wanted breakfast.
The three of us ordered the same, delicious “Farm Breakfast” each opting for different meats so we could try it all. I was very pleased when I mentioned to our server that I really wanted to also try their Hollandaise with the housemade tater tots and she offered to bring me a bit to try, no questions asked.
Every. Single. Bite.
From the eggs to the sausage to the hot biscuits, all the way to the homemade tater tots, strawberry butter, and my taste of Hollandaise, every single bite was scrumptious! It was a large breakfast and none of us finished every bite, but that could have been due to the coffees we had previously enjoyed on the patio.
On Tuesday we did return to the Take Away and Market to grab lunch for our drive back to Fort Worth and it was just as delicious. We each enjoyed the chicken salad which was creamy, cool, crunchy, and fresh! I was even impressed at how soft and delicious the croissant was, even when it came out of a deli fridge. Well done, again!
All in all, this restauranteur’s daughter was impressed, and I feel like that’s saying something. And yet, I wouldn’t expect any less of Chip and Jo or their team of business champions; to know what they wanted, to go after it, to find people who are experts in the industry who would lead the charge, and for it to all come together just like this.
Magnolia Market [601 Webster Ave, Waco, TX 76706]
People flock here!
When we got back over to the Market, the place was hopping! People were everywhere, taking photos outside, sitting and playing on the lawn, next to the bakery enjoying their treats, shading themselves from the sun under the shadows of the Silos themselves, in the gardens, waiting in line for the Bakery, checking out the food trucks, everywhere.
Upon check-out at the Market I asked an employee if it was busy like this all the time and she shared that Monday’s are extremely busy because they are closed on Sunday, but the crowds taper off Tuesday and Wednesday. (Good to know!)
The Market was very much alive and felt very crowded with wall-to-wall bodies of women and men alike observing, handling, talking about design, décor, and taking it all in. Again I’ll say, it felt like Disneyland (for women) with lines wrapping around stanchions and through the store and people swarming about. But everyone seemed willing to wait and employees smiled kindly and graciously everywhere we turned.
@magnolia - a quick a Magnolia Market tour #magnoliamarket pic.twitter.com/docHf7dlCr
— Propel Businessworks (@PropelBizworks) May 8, 2018
There are two areas inside the market. Walking through the first room which is filled with the eye-catching, inspiring, and beautiful decor you’d expect you can then enter the second “room” and proceed down a few stairs to continue shopping. This isn’t really a room but a massive warehouse where cotton was processed and stored in the property’s former life. You’ll even notice original conveyer belts and fans and catwalk structures overhead. This area also has “Chip’s Corner” with a selection of products for ‘the guys’.
The check-out lines weren’t terribly long and each time I got to a clerk, I was always asked where I was from (they all seem to know that people come from all over the U.S. for a Magnolia experience), and whether I was military (for which they give me a 10% discount at every check-out opportunity). Each item was wrapped carefully and placed in a branded Magnolia bag. Every detail made an impression.
A large lawn is exposed to the sun and people play games, relax on blankets, or sit and catch their breath. A pavilion shades picnic benched tables and guests. Around the NW side of the property food trucks of all kinds line the Jackson Street side of the gated block. There are areas to eat and everywhere you go you are reminded of the history of the property with original pieces of the structures still intact.
Magnolia Seed & Supply
Yes, Magnolia has a seed and supply collection. But located on the North end of the Silos property, the Seed & Supply is a little building that focuses on gardening. With flowers and plants and garden beds out front, a greenhouse and shed, they are providing an example of living life simply while also encouraging people to embrace, learn about, and love gardening.
Silos Baking Co.
One of my favorite episodes of Fixer Upper is the episode where Jo catches a vision for the on-site structure adjacent to the Silos. The woman is inspiring as she reveals her love of baking among all of her other talents, business ownership, and wife/mom responsibilities.
In the episode we watch her vision and design of the building, their cupcake taste testing process, and the final reveal to their kids, which was ridiculously darling. But what I noticed upon my visit to the Silos Baking Co. was the thoughtful process they have embraced and have to master every day due to the overwhelming demand to try her famous baked goods.
My sisters and I didn’t even attempt to stand in line on Monday, instead opting to enjoy a scone, biscuit, and cupcake for breakfast on Tuesday. Best. Decision. Ever. The line was short and we walked right in. We were handed an order card, were able to still decide based on seeing what was behind the counter glass, and were in and out within 7 minutes I’d say.
Again, the employees all smiled broadly and the man at the register even bantered with my sister-in-law about how Idaho’s sports team had beat his team, something I know nothing about but got a kick out of.
I enjoyed every bite of “The Prize Big” (savory scone) biscuit I ordered, not to mention the Carrot Cake cupcake with cream cheese icing, and a taste of the Cranberry Orange Biscuit (sweet scone) I took home for a friend of mine. I only wish I could order a dozen for birthday parties in my area…
Magnolia Table Cook Book released April 24th, 2018
We flew out the afternoon of Tuesday, April 24th, but not before enjoying the bakery and grabbing a few last minute items in the market. Between the bakery and waiting for the Market to open I noticed a truck on the lawn with a big board with kitchen utensils and “Magnolia Table” written out.
I thought they were promoting the restaurant, but to my delight I found out Joanna’s much anticipated Magnolia Table cook book was released for sale that day! How special! And no, she wasn’t there to sign. We found out she was in New York promoting the book that day, of course. But I felt almost giddy to pick up my copy and be the first to do so at that little silver truck on the lawn. I even met the Art Director, although I failed miserably at networking further. (Seriously Jamie? You’re smarter than that.)
Back to the cookbook though, it's beautiful. Photography, stories, and all at the caliber you would expect of JO, not to mention drool-worthy recipes that harken back to the "good 'ole days" and call you to its' pages. I can't wait to channel my inner Joanna and dive into my first recipe!
My business owner observations
It amazes me how America as a culture, feels the need to be a part of something great. That thousands make their own trek every year to experience the Silos, the Market, the Bakery, and now Magnolia Table for themselves. To get their own taste of the vision we have all watched this passionate couple develop on television in front of our eyes.
What I love about Magnolia is how values-centered they seem to be. Their employees seem truly happy – happy to be there, happy to serve, just happy. Without a doubt, the culture this couple has created is one of gratitude, service, and joy.
Power teams and small business promoters
Not only that, but Chip and Jo have leveraged other local business owners, craftspeople, artisans, professionals, and experts to do the work they do alongside them.
Chip and Joanna don’t pretend to know or do it all themselves. Instead, they bring people around them who work excellently and they give them projects, build their businesses, develop teams and surround themselves with the best. This is seen in the show (refer to Clint Harp’s woodworking, or Jimmy Don’s metal working, or other designers Joanna brings in for property design elements) and I observed it in their employees while in Waco as well.
So, I can only imagine all of the brand managers, marketing, communications, business consultants, advisors, managers and others who are working behind the scenes to make Magnolia what it is! (It almost makes me want to uproot and move to Waco just to have the chance to work with them! Almost!)
Building and improving with purpose
What I also have observed is the dedication Chip and Joanna have to preserving the history of Waco, while also being the catalyst to improving its’ once-tarnished reputation. They have been vessels for bringing light back into a darkened place, and with their passion they have followed each pathway and approached each open door to their destiny.
Has America seen only the entrepreneur journey or the realized dreams? Or have they also been attracted to the wholesome, fun-filled, caring, family-focused couple who are examples of a way of making a ripple effect by doing life and doing business from a higher standard?
#BehindtheDesign #FixerUpper pic.twitter.com/WM3qFW0ExF
— Magnolia (@magnolia) April 25, 2018
I am inspired by Chip and Joanna and the Magnolia businesses for many reasons, but I’m even more inspired that after five years of Fixer Upper shows the couple decided to end that endeavor in order to serve, love, and raise their family better. And now she’s expecting baby #5 in July.
We truly need more American businesses with values like theirs as examples of success.
Final #bosslady thoughts…
Be Like Chip.
I think we all need to be more like Chip. Entrepreneurs who want something should go after it. Be bold. Be brave. Be confident. To not take no for an answer, not believe negative words or thoughts. And to have fun every step of the way. We should never give up. And when we get tired, or the road takes twists, we should find a new opportunity to shine. We should also treat others with kindness and bring light and joy to the world.
“I feel like a little bit of a load has been lifted, under the realization that tomorrow’s going to be a different chapter.” Learn how Chip and Joanna Gaines are preparing for their next steps.https://t.co/MybVTisrbC pic.twitter.com/aDSEjc8TW5
— SUCCESS magazine (@successmagazine) December 5, 2017
Be Like Joanna.
And I think we should all be more like Joanna. To embrace our passion, dive in with both feet, and bring our own unique creativity and talent to our industries. Not only that, but to also be steadfast, loving, encouragers of each other, especially those we work with and live with. We should bring out the best in others, whether that be team members, family members, or friends. I’ve seen her do that with Chip in every episode, and as a result I know it’s how she lives her life as a whole.
When it comes to all things Magnolia, how can one not to be inspired?
Fantastic case study. I love how you highlighted their attention to the customer experience. I think it’s the difference between building a fad or building a legacy. I also have enjoyed hearing your take on their individual personalities. Character matters.
Thank you Brandon. I agree! They have built a legacy and have embraced being uniquely them, not to mention the customer experience! 🙂 Makes all the difference!
Jamie this is a well written review of a true American Dream. The detailed thread of building a successful business is woven throughout and I think readers can easily grab ahold and be inspired to create!
You are a gift to all who know you. I’m so proud of you!
Thank you Dad. You are an inspiration to me!! xo
Jamie, this is very well-done. I have somehow been under a rock and have not caught on to all Chip and Joanna have done, but I will certainly pay more attention after reading your case study. I’m a sucker for good design of a holistic brand, and these folks seem to be able to teach a college course on it!
Agreed, Jen. They definitely could!! 🙂