Just after 9 a.m. on an overcast October morning, a line of more than a dozen people has already formed outside Silos Baking Co. in the heart of Waco, Texas. A tiny establishment, the bakery will reach capacity hundreds of times, and not just because of the deliciousness of its Shiplap cupcakes or its thick slices of seasonal pumpkin bread. Customers stand outside on a windy, gray day for the chance to taste the brand that brings tens of thousands of people to Waco each year.
Silos Baking Co. is but one of dozens of businesses that are part of Magnolia, the home and lifestyle company built into a TV, retail and e-commerce juggernaut over the past two decades by Chip and Joanna Gaines. In the 10 years since the Gaineses became household names as stars of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper,” the two have expanded their brand into a multifacted operation with unrivaled reach and influence in the lucrative lifestyle sectors of home, hearth, food and family.
In July 2021, the Gaineses took their content game to the next level with the launch of Magnolia Network, a 24/7 channel that debuted on Discovery+ and launched on a linear channel (the rebranded DIY Network) in January. By the fall, Magnolia Network was leading the charge in integrating Discovery-related content with the company’s new HBO Max sibling under the Warner Bros. Discovery banner. For these reasons and more, Variety is recognizing Chip and Joanna Gaines as our inaugural Lifestyle Leaders Entrepreneurs of the Year.
In a lengthy interview, the Gaineses emphasize that their roots as business owners, neighbors and parents of five children are the grounding forces that have allowed Magnolia to blossom. “When you think about people who want to be on television, that’s the endgame,” says Chip. “For Joanna and me, we were small-business owners who happened to get on television.”
Chip & Jo, as the couple are known, are quick to offer assessments of their success — why, for instance, their particular lifestyle milieu has connected so strongly with a broad swath of consumers. The specific chemistry of the couple — his aw-shucks humor and her simple, elegant style — helps make them good business partners. Chip is the one to leap first, ask questions later; Joanna is the planner with an eye for detail in everything from the design of their quarterly Magnolia Journal magazine to the touches on the 100,000-square-foot headquarters they are building in downtown Waco. The pair are sole owners of the broader Magnolia empire, although WB Discovery is a partner in the channel.
“For us, there hasn’t been a playbook, which I would say is why we have many sleepless nights,” Joanna says, “because there’s no other business that you can say, ‘Well, they did this in the last 10 years and it’s worked.’ It feels a bit lonely on this side of it.” After a laugh she’s quick to add, “But, thankfully, I’ve got Chip here with me. I feel like every other day we’re just jumping and holding our breath.”
Chip has also wrestled with the chicken-and-egg question of TV’s role in making them successful as entrepreneurs. “We wanted to do these businesses, and television kind of oddly gave us the opportunity to do what was deep down in our hearts to begin with,” he says. “As a businessperson, it makes me feel wildly insecure. Did we do this because it was what we earned and what we deserved and what was right for us? Or did we get lucky and we got to do this, basically, because of television?”
Humility is also a part of the Magnolia brand. The Gaineses have emerged as marketing masters, turning so much of their work in home renovation and design into content for Magnolia Network. They’re building a massive brick-and-mortar retail footprint in partnership with Target, which has embraced Magnolia in its more than 1,900 U.S. locations. And they have a growing e-commerce business that moves everything from scented candles to distressed furniture. Magnolia’s prominence in the home and food sector creates the circle where the TV content drives retail sales while the retail presence fuels viewership of the TV shows. At present, the Gaineses are in the midst of a big recruiting push to build out their roster of shows — especially those that don’t have Chip & Jo on camera.
Sitting in Jo’s cozy office in Magnolia’s headquarters, the pair reflect on their rise since the day they opened the doors of their first storefront in Waco in 2003. Today, Magnolia and the fandom around Chip & Jo have transformed the city of about 140,000 people, which was once primarily known as the home of Baylor University and the site of the 1993 Branch Davidians standoff with the FBI that left some 75 people dead.
But the Gaineses’ success, which has brought a building boom to the town, comes with responsibility, Chip asserts, echoing sentiments he shared in his 2021 book “No Pain, No Gaines: The Good Stuff Doesn’t Come Easy.” “Television was the spark — or maybe you’d argue it was the jet fuel that was poured onto the spark,” he says. “Now Jo and I are just constantly fighting for ‘What’s the purpose of it all?’ What are we supposed to do as it relates to our kids? What are we supposed to do as it relates to this beautiful community?”
On that score, the couple have their own business metrics, including the overall poverty rate in Waco, that they’re monitoring for the long haul. “We want this city to be better because of the opportunity that we’ve been given,” Chip says. “We do not want to look back in the rearview mirror of life and realize that we didn’t make a great impact.”
Perhaps the fullest expression of the Magnolia allure is the outdoor shopping and recreation area in downtown Waco known as the Silos. Despite the windy central Texas plains, the lawn area manages to smell like a perpetually lit seasonal candle. The space is so named because it is built around two enormous silos and the giant shoots that once processed cottonseed oil. The Silos draw an estimated 50,000 visitors a year to Waco — a pilgrimage to Chip & Jo that is reflected in the host of other boutique hotels, shops and eateries that have popped up throughout Waco in recent years.
The Gaineses debuted the Silos property in 2015 and gradually added shops, which are open to the public during the day. On a recent Monday, a few young couples parked strollers on the edge of the AstroTurf lawn, where babies and toddlers romped.
Though the “Fixer Upper” couple has had a hand in crafting every part of the attraction, their names are largely absent from everything on the grounds. And that’s sometimes to the chagrin of the visitors who might love a T-shirt or a picture with a cardboard cutout of Chip & Jo.
But the Gaineses, who are co-owners and founders of the entire Magnolia operation, don’t want that; to offer up tchotchkes would be to break the elegant aesthetic that is so worshiped by Magnolia disciples. “There’s some people that want heroin, but there’s a reason why we don’t give it to them,” Chip says as Jo shakes her head and cringes a bit at the use of the H-word. She offers a more eloquent response. “When we were doing the construction and really dreaming about what the Silos could be, the biggest thing for us was getting an opportunity to help these families, these friends — all the people that are coming — create moments and memories together,” she says. “We don’t want it to feel touristy. We’ve heard, ‘What if you put your face on this?’ We’ve just always been very opposed to that.”
Today, the Gaineses’ Waco footprint also includes the sit-down restaurant Magnolia Table (where you can get a delicious bowl of Chip’s favorite chili and biscuits), the coffee shop Magnolia Press (which serves classic Texas pecan-flavored coffee and a stunning brown-sugar latte), a Magnolia Home store (carrying the cutest Christmas ornaments), several Magnolia-owned vacation rental homes styled by Jo (the predecessors to the Gaineses’ under-construction boutique hotel, opening in downtown Waco next fall) and a 100-year-old castle the couple recently flipped (which has inspired a custom paint collection dreamed up by Jo) on their newest Magnolia Network TV series, “Fixer Upper: The Castle,” which jointly debuted on HBO Max in October.
There was a period during which the Gaineses’ brick-and-mortar establishments — as well as their Magnolia Journal, Target line Hearth & Hand and HarperCollins cookbook deal — were their focus, following their decision to end “Fixer Upper,” HGTV’s No. 1 series, in 2018. But after a breather and a fifth child, Chip and Jo began talks with their longtime friend and boss, then-Discovery CEO David Zaslav, to launch a joint venture with Discovery to create both a linear network (rebranded from Discovery’s DIY Network) and a streaming app that would also live on the planned platform Discovery+.
Fast forward to the present, and Magnolia Network’s programming is so pivotal to the post-merger WB Discovery operation that its catalog of shows, including old seasons of “Fixer Upper,” mark the first legacy Discovery titles to also stream on HBO Max. That move came after Warner Bros. Discovery decided the rightful place to position future development at Magnolia Network, which is run by the Gaineses and president Allison Page, was under HBO and HBO Max chairman and CEO Casey Bloys.
“Chip and Jo have a huge fan base, and that’s because people trust them and want to spend time with them,” Zaslav says. “During COVID, we spent a lot of time talking about our families and what’s important to us. They are wonderful people, and it has been incredibly rewarding to see them achieve so much success.”
The brand performs across platforms, with Magnolia Network content among the top unscripted programs on HBO Max and “Fixer Upper: The Castle,” specifically, remaining in the Top 10 titles on HBO Max since its debut. On Discovery+, “The Castle” has been the No. 1 show since its premiere. Combined with viewership on HBO Max, the show triples its streaming viewership on Discovery+.
While Chip and Joanna are featured heavily on “Fixer Upper: The Castle” as well as “Fixer Upper: Welcome Home,” Joanna’s food-centric “Magnolia Table,” and “Silos Baking Competition” (plus “The Retro Plant Shop” with Jo and her sister, Mary Kay “Mikey” McCall), they run their network the way they run the Silos and have opted to keep their faces out of most of the content.
Instead, what the Gaineses want to see on their network are lots of people who are as passionate about their trades as the Gaineses have been about construction, renovation and design since establishing their small business almost 20 years ago.
“We sit with any of our storytellers for 10 minutes and Chip and I are freaking out, we’re so inspired,” Joanna says. She gets excited just talking about the idea of spending time with the stars of “The Johnnyswim Show,” “Growing Floret,” “The Home Team With Britt & Annie,” Andrew Zimmern’s “Family Dinner” and “Baked in Tradition.” “And then from there, we figure out, ‘How do we capture what they’re doing and call it a show?’ When you look at the network and see these shows, whether it’s a home show or a cooking show, you see that same thread of people doing what they were meant to do. They’re passionate about it. And, hopefully, people watch that and are inspired to go find the thing they’re meant to do.”
Chip and Joanna see Magnolia Journal as the hub for the Magnolia brand, and they’re planning the magazine’s trajectory two years out and focusing on a specific word to build each new season’s style around. Page, who previously ran HGTV and Food Network, says the idea has always been to use the journal to inform programming decisions at Magnolia Network. “We’ve talked from the beginning about Magnolia Journal being the source of inspiration. That magazine — the paper is thicker and it feels different,” Page says, rubbing her fingers together to simulate the experience of holding the publication. “Jo and I talked about, if you were flipping channels, what does Magnolia Network look like? What feels different, the way the Magnolia Journal feels different? Sometimes it’s lenses; sometimes it’s editing and sound design. But you can feel the difference when Magnolia is on.”
Page says taking the time to make sure everything that’s Magnolia branded feels Magnolia branded creates a cycle of success: “Every business winds up benefiting the other businesses and making the whole thing stronger and bigger and more impactful. Because it’s not one feeding the other — it’s all feeding each other. Look at something like the ‘Silos Baking Competition’ special that we did last summer, and now we’re doing a series and a holiday special. The idea that you can go taste the winning baked item in Magnolia’s bakery is a tangible example, the same way you can go and buy the paint you saw in ‘Fixer Upper: The Castle.’”
The level of fame the Gaineses achieved through the first run of “Fixer Upper,” which followed the couple flipping homes in their native Waco while raising four small children and running their existing business, rivals that of some A-list Hollywood stars. But it’s their expertise in home renovation and design that can make them worth much more to a brand than those celebrities.
“If you look at Chip and Joanna Gaines, there’s a very strong connection with their skill set and the products that they offer. They are experts in that field, whereas sometimes with celebrities, you get the feeling that it’s basically just a celebrity putting their name on something,” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, says. “There’s nothing wrong with that, and it can still be very successful. But there are celebrities with their names plastered everywhere, and there’s nothing that ties back in terms of expertise. With some of these lifestyle players like Chip and Joanna Gaines, they’re leading trends because their shows will help influence people’s tastes; they’re designing and at this forefront of the creation of lifestyles and that’s often very useful for retailers.”
Chip and Joanna’s biggest retail partner is Target, where they launched their home brand Hearth & Hand in November 2017. The partnership began when then-Target chief merchandising officer Mark Tritton and his team headed to Waco to meet with the Gaineses and work through a symbiotic relationship that would lead to an authentic brand from the couple, run from a house-shaped metal-frame building.
“I didn’t want just products on shelves; I wanted an experience within this little metal-frame building. That costs money,” Joanna says, recalling the pricey predicament posed by her idea for the line, which was embraced by Tritton and Target.
“We’d never done a more permanent branded environment,” Tritton, who was previously CEO at Bed Bath & Beyond and now serves as a board member for Nordstrom, says. “It’s a little bit different. When you work with Apple or large brands like that, it’s very restrictive. But it was really important for Joanna and Chip to create a holistic environment. And that was relatively new — we had bed linen in the bed linen aisle and dining service in kitchenware. And this was a one-stop shop. It was a very out-of-the-box proposition for Target. But we worked on an identifiable space, and it’s become a destination for consumers.”
The iconic metal home that is now synonymous with the Gaineses for shoppers at Targets across the country also stands in their hometown Target. That supersized Texas store is the first place Joanna Gaines and her family laid eyes on the fruits of her labors.
“It was a huge deal for them to be on TV. But to be in every Target store in America, that was a game changer,” Tritton says. “We did this thing for them, where Jo took her children into Target the night before Hearth & Hand launched to say, ‘Look what we’ve done!’ We set up the Waco store the night before it opened, and we let them come in after-hours, so they wouldn’t be hassled by everybody because everyone knows them. I think it just goes to show they are a very public private couple, and I love that about them.”
Chip and Jo famously do not have a TV in their home (though they do have one at their offices where they screen Magnolia Network content, and go over to a neighbor’s house to get their fill of college sports and other shows), which Chip says is actually a benefit to them as heads of a network. “I feel like we see things with a really fresh perspective. We’re not trying to figure out what somebody else did that was successful for them and follow in those footsteps. We’re sort of pioneering different lanes and different channels. Then the downside is you do find yourself feeling like everything’s this big risk. Everything feels like it’s life and death. It feels like it complicates and maybe amplifies the risk and the reward.”
From the start, the Gaineses have surrounded themselves with people who loved doing what they do for a living, and many of those faces from the early days of “Fixer Upper” and before are the ones surrounding them today, now acting as executives within Magnolia.
“We’re always trying to find, who are we like, who is our competitor?” says Whitney Kaufhold, who began as an employee of the Gaineses at their first storefront, the Little Shop on Bosque, seven and a half years ago and is now Magnolia’s VP of creative, in charge of maintaining a consistent marketing look across all aspects of the Magnolia brand. “And I think that’s a hard question to answer. So when we’re trying to figure out, ‘how do they do it?’ — we’re always finding reasons that that wouldn’t work for us because we aren’t quite that. That’s where we’ve had to be gritty and scrappy and really try to be creative, in that sense. But there’s something so magical about that, because if you can’t find what you’re looking for, then that just means it hasn’t been created yet. That’s what drives us to keep disrupting and to keep doing things a little different.”
One of the biggest ways the Gaineses keep bucking trends is their insistence on staying put in Waco, a town chosen by both of them separately as young adults after Joanna moved to Waco in high school, and Chip grew up in Dallas and they each attended Baylor University. Instead of leaning into their famous status by moving to Los Angeles or New York, the couple have made a point of staying in Waco and focusing their efforts on renovating properties there, supporting local businesses and giving back to the community they want so desperately to forever remain a part of.
As major players in the home industry, the Gaineses want to be a voice in helping to solve the nation’s affordable housing crisis. As ever, they focus their philanthropy close to home. “We want to do it in Waco first,” Chip says. “We’ve got a template here because we’ve got a high poverty rate as it relates to a national average,” he says. “The whole objective would be for us to be 80 and not say to ourselves, ‘But we’ve got all these trusts built and our great-great-great-great-grandkids are now taken care of.’ To the contrary, we would prefer to be on that rocking chair on our front porch, saying, ‘I’m proud of the impact that we’ve had here.’”
Prosperity, Jo emphasizes, needs a purpose. One of her guiding principles in business has been to strive to be the warmest, kindest host to fans who travel from far and wide to get to Waco for a heaping slice of the Magnolia experience.
“We went from a 1,200-square-foot building down the street to the Silos,” Joanna says. “The intention has been the same from the beginning: We care about people. We care about the time they spend with us, and we hope that they leave inspired to go do whatever it is that sparks joy in their life.”