Not too long ago if you were to tell anybody that the center of the American home furnishings design world was in Waco, Texas they might have looked at you like you were…well, wacko.
But despite the allure of New York, the magic of Los Angeles and the appeal of Miami or San Francisco, it’s this little town in the flats of central Texas, halfway between Dallas and Houston, that has become the design mecca for shoppers. And it’s only about to get more so.
Waco was previously a town infamously best known for a cult mass murder, but it’s taken on special meaning for the busloads of tourists who make the trek from Dallas or Houston to visit their design and pop culture mecca.
Waco is the home of Chip and Joanne Gaines’ Magnolia Home empire that encompasses media, retail, wholesale, hospitality and just about every other aspect of American culture. From their humble beginnings flipping houses in the early 2000s, the husband and wife have built a home furnishings juggernaut that is far and away the most influential style leader in the country today. Their impact on interior design, reflected in print, online and on television, has permeated household trends to the point that the description “Modern Farmhouse” has become as ubiquitous as contemporary, traditional, cottage, casual or craftsman when it comes to what kind of home people want to live in.
Over the next year or so that will get even bigger as the Gaines expand their efforts in a number of areas.
- Just this summer, their Magnolia Home brand introduced the company’s first true line of furniture, a nearly 180-piece collection that ranges from upholstered couches and chairs to full bedroom and dining room groups. Previously, the brand had only sold selected accent furniture pieces like small tables or décor items like mirrors and rugs.
- The Gaines’ retail complex in Waco, called the Silos, is about to get a serious expansion, adding six new stores under the Shops at Silo banner. They will include individual units selling apparel, books, fashion accessories and bath and body products. These will join existing stores for its core Magnolia Home offerings, a bakery, a garden shop and a food truck area. The original buildings are actual grain silos, but the additions are all new, built in the cottage-style that is the brand’s signature. There will also be a church in keeping with the couple’s strong Christian beliefs. The entire complex is scheduled to open this fall.
- And next year will see the return of Fixer Upper, the TV show that started the Gaines on their way to fame. The show wrapped up in 2018 when the couple announced they were having their fifth child. While they said they needed to take a break from the five-year run of the show, it turned out the time away was short. Shortly thereafter they made a deal with the cable company Discover, which owned the HGTV network that was the show’s home, to do something even bigger. That turned into the pending launch of the Magnolia Network, which will take over the current DIY space starting next year. While most of the network’s shows will feature other starts, the new Fixer Upper will no doubt be the centerpiece.
The Pieces All Fit Together
For the Gaines it is a remarkable run. Waco was previously a town infamously best known for a cult mass murder, but it’s taken on special meaning for the busloads of tourists who make the trek from Dallas or Houston to visit their design and pop culture mecca. These devotees often are holding copies of Magnolia Journal magazine, published by Meredith and now touting a readership of 5.6 million. The women are typically wearing jewelry, scarfs and other clothing from Joanna’s line while the men wear Chip t-shirts and baseball caps. If one were to visit their homes, there would most no doubt be more than a few Magnolia decorative accessories, gardening tools and books in residence.
Some of the fans’ Magnolia products would have been purchased at Target where a sub-brand of Magnolia, Hearth & Hand, has been a huge success since its 2017 launch. It continues to expand beyond its original decorative accessories foundation to now include bed and bath textiles, accent furniture and soft home items including rugs and decorative pillows. The Gaines also license the Magnolia name for a variety of other products, from rugs to candles, to third-party suppliers who sell them across a wide spectrum of retailing. And should a devotee run into a Gaines in person, they would certainly have their Magnolia notebooks and pens handy to get an autograph.
As the entire business is privately owned it is virtually impossible to estimate the revenue it generates. But a TV network, a program in 1800 Target stores, a national magazine, retail stores and a large wholesale business: add them all up and the total business conservatively has to be somewhere in the low ten-figure range.
What drives all of this? In one way, it’s a proven formula developed by the first wave of cross-selling home furnishings designers like Ralph Lauren and then perfected by the next generation led by Martha Stewart. Ralph was really the first in the home space to coordinate products across home categories, from textiles and furniture to home décor. And he got retailers to show it all together rather than departmentalizing across the store. His lifestyle advertising and marketing and apparel tie-ins didn’t hurt either.
Martha’s true brilliance was in making each piece of her business — TV, print, merchandising — play off the other. If you watched her on television or read her magazine you already wanted her products. If you bought her products you wanted to see how she used them to decorate, cook or grow zucchini. And the circle was unbroken.
Magnolia is using the same formula and like any good next generation, it has enhanced it even further with its own stores, multi-tiered product lines and now, a branded cable TV network.
In the history of the home furnishings business, nobody’s ever done it this completely.
Some observers have said they expected the modern urban farmhouse thing to eventually play out; with essentially only the single look, the Gaines were just one-trick ponies. Nothing of the sort has happened. The shiplap walls, the oversized wall clocks, the inspirational wall hangings and all the rest appear to have a lot of life left in them.
Chip and Joanne Gaines may be moving beyond Waco…but they aren’t going anywhere.