Magnolia founders deliver down-home charm

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It was a feat many would have deemed impossible: Chip and Joanna Gaines, the powerhouse duo behind home and lifestyle brand Magnolia, delivered the closing session of NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show — and the word “shiplap” was never mentioned.

Charm, however, was in full supply from the start. The couple regaled the audience with the story of a business built on gut instinct, hard work, a desire to instill hope in others and no small amount of luck. They balance each other out, with Joanna apparently the grounding string to Chip’s high-flying kites.

“I’m a bit of an entrepreneur,” Chip said. “I need change in order to feel inspired, encouraged. Jo is the opposite. She needs a consistent day-to-day. If she knows what she’s going to be doing for the entire year of 2019, that’s her peaceful place. For me, I don’t even want to know what I’m doing tomorrow … . I’m constantly saying, ‘How about this new thing?’ And then she’s constantly saying, ‘That would be really stupid.’”

Jess Cagle, editor-in-chief of People, moderated the session, admitting he was a fan — and that the couple had sold a lot of copies of the magazine by being on its cover. He asked how they decide which venture to go into next, as well as when to stop.

The couple famously chose to cease filming HGTV’s popular “Fixer Upper” show at the close of five seasons. In announcing its end, they said they wanted time to catch their breath, take a break and focus on family. (The couple had their fifth child in 2018.) It was OK, Joanna said, even though things were going well, to say no and trust that it might come back, or it might not — and if it didn’t, there might be something better.

“We sought out really wise counsel in regard to the ‘Fixer Upper’ conclusion,” Chip said. “Honestly, it had picked us up out of obscurity … . The television show essentially introduced us to the world.” They started thinking it was time to end it, “but how do you know? Most of the folks we sought that counsel from were like, ‘No, it is not time. You know it’s time when your ratings are in the toilet and someone calls you up and said, you’re fired.’”

Gut instinct, however, kicked in, and the first morning they woke up without filming on the schedule, he said, “it was like our hearts exploded.”

Though elements of their business story have shifted, significant themes remain. Joanna spoke of authenticity, of hope, of creating an experience rather than just trying to sell home décor. The idea is that people feel something tangibly different with Magnolia; people who touch the brand — in whatever way that might be — come away inspired.

It was birthed, after all, during a brief time Joanna lived in New York during college and tried to find boutiques that would help provide a sense of “home” in the city. In 2003, the year Chip and Joanna married in Texas, she opened her first home décor shop in Waco, Texas, while Chip worked construction. She also served as her husband’s “secret ingredient” when it came to products and design for his business, and her reputation grew. Success grew right along with it.

They joked that when the TV show came along, there was concern that it would be too niche. Who could relate to a couple living on a farm in Waco with so many kids?

“What we realized is that people connected with our relationship, with the authenticity that we were starting businesses together and raising children together and actually enjoying one another’s company,” Chip said. “It was the idea that authenticity and relationship and love, if you will — not to be trite on that last one — are what really lead us through the journey.”

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