The great home furnishings design capitals of the world: Paris, Milan, New York, Waco Texas.
Unless your cable TV has been out for the past five years, you probably are aware that this city of about 135,000 people half-way between Dallas and Houston has become one of the most influential places on the planet when it comes to mainstream interior design and home furnishings trends. And that’s because it’s the home of husband and wife – not to mention their four kids – Chip and Joanna Gaines and their Magnolia Home mini-empire. From rather modest origins – he was a local developer/contractor, she had an eye for interior design – Magnolia has blossomed into a multi-media business that now impacts big box and online retailing, television, publishing and even the hospitality business.
The core of Magnolia business is still the Fixer Upper home remodeling and redecorating series on HGTV. It is now airing the fifth and final season of what is a formulaic model: “We take the worst house on the best block” and turn it into a showplace. Chip does the grunt work while Joanna handles the redecorating side of the equation. Most of the houses are in the Waco area at prices that would cause most urban dwellers to drop their lattes: as low as $60,000 for homes with enough land to raise a few heads of cattle…or at least do a little fracking. Joanna’s trademark style is what clinches the deal. A now predictable mélange of farmhouse rural meets urban industrial chic, it invariably includes a lot of hardwood flooring, shiplap (think wainscoting), big clocks more decorative than functional, granite topped kitchens, sliding barn doors on closets and such and enough decorative doodads to keep factories in China going for years. It’s a look that has both captivated audiences and set off a feeding frenzy of copycat fever in both decorating and broadcast circles.
The latest evidence of such has been the brand’s big move into mainstream discount retailing. Last fall the Gaines introduced a home furnishings collection for Target that is now being followed up by a second program reflecting its initial success and its pivotal role in the resurgence of the store’s home business. The program, which includes home décor, accent furniture and related decorative accessories, is shown in vignetted areas within Target as opposed to the retailer’s more conventional gondola fixtures. Subranded as Hearth & Home with Magnolia, the line is clearly seen as Target’s lead dog to recapture the young home-starting customer it has lost over the past few years to West Elm, Amazon and just about everybody else. Said the retailer, in its rollout of the second collection, “Guests have already fallen in love with the brand’s signature modern farmhouse aesthetic, and taken home lots of pieces to make it their own. And now, there’s even more for them to love.”
The Target program is just part of Magnolia’s four-prong product strategy. There is the Magnolia Home store in Waco, situated as part of a reconverted grain solo that attracts as many as 30,000 people on a busy Saturday and the corresponding direct-to-consumer business done online.
Finally, there is a separate brand licensing program that includes furniture, rugs and even paint. There is also a Magnolia magazine, books and a bakery – Silos Baking Co. – adjacent to the store. No doubt there are additional line expansions, tie-ins and deals even in the works even as we shop.
Certainly other home brands have pursued similar paths – Ralph Lauren and Martha Stewart come to mind immediately – but Magnolia has probably done it faster and with more verve than anybody before. Some would argue they’ve done it better too, with a more balanced and slow-but-steady progression. And the final season of the TV series by no means marks a high point. The Gaines are working on two new arrivals: a possible new TV series and a fifth child to come later this year.
The couple are quite upfront, without being overtly preachy about their conservative evangelical faith, something that seems to have no impact on their popularity across broad demographic and geographic strata. Said one licensee of his Magnolia program: “We’ve never seen anything like this. It sells everywhere to everybody.” Clearly a brand that needs no fixing up at all.
Warren Shoulberg is a journalist who had reported on the home furnishings industry for much of his career. He admits he finds Chip and Joanna absolutely captivating.