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FIXER UPPER: What you can learn from Joanna Gaines and her signature brand

24 Aug

by Betsey Guzior

magnolia16

The exterior of the Magnolia Market on a quiet Wednesday. The Waco, Texas, home of Chip and Joanna Gaines opened last October. On weekends, lines form around the block to enter the store.

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WACO — If you can guess why I’m in a semi-industrial area of Waco, Texas, at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday in the middle of a heat wave — even for Texas — read on.

Because you know that I’m about to enter the Fixer Upper Wonderland, Magnolia Market.

This is the place built by the messiahs of shiplap, Chip and Joanna Gaines, whose HGTV show “Fixer Upper” launched a design and lifestyle brand.

Magnolia Market is the latest, but not the last, way that Joanna Gaines is taking her clean and rustic aesthetic into homes across America.

Her furniture line, Magnolia Homes, is entering its second year and rolling out at Value City Furniture stores nationwide. A magazine is planned to debut in October. Their bed and breakfast, Magnolia Home, just sold out its reservations for 2017. A book, “The Magnolia Story,” is due in October.

Do a quick Google search and you’ll find all sorts of fawning over the couple and the Fixer Upper brand.

It’s clear they have the magic touch.

So, I enter the “silos” (the nickname given to the complex built at the site of old grain silos) with a bit of fangirl glow that’s only 10 percent sweat.

But for me, it’s not about the stuff — the store after all is a Pinterest page come to life.

It’s about the careful branding the two have cultivated. It’s impressive, and there’s lots to learn from it.

The Fixer Upper style is as distinct as a fingerprint. Joanna Gaines’ design sense was informed long ago. Lots of white, a mix of old and new pieces, with a touch of minimalism. Joanna’s home first was featured in the Design Mom blog in 2012; a TV producer called them after and offered to film a pilot. Before that, the two were residential home builders. But the look was there.

The lesson: Find your style, and refine it, and refine it again.

When success comes, be ready. Magnolia Market opened last October, and the crowds came — sometimes overwhelming the town of Waco, which has been super supportive of the Gaines. During my trip, there were lots of staff prepared to help patrons find their favorite items.

The lesson: Anticipate how success can spoil your business, then make the appropriate moves.

You can’t fake authenticity. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram calls Magnolia Market a “Six Flags for shiplap,” a spot-on description of the place. It’s a direct extension of the couple’s TV personality — and is key to the believability of their brand. It’s a trait that endeared viewers to “Fixer Upper” early on and drives the connection the brand has with its fans now.

The lesson: Stay true to your brand, even if it means losing out on a short-term gain that could compromise it.

Bring your posse along for the ride. The city of Waco is the silent partner of the Gaines family. The town — formerly associated with a federal shootout with separatists in 1993, a 2015 biker bar shootout, and a sexual assault scandal at nearby Baylor University — welcomes “Fixer Upper” fans with large billboards. A cottage industry is growing around the Magnolia Market site. The couple also saved the grain silo site from possible demolition, and, in May, bought a beloved restaurant, the Elite Cafe, in downtown Waco.

The lesson: It pays to play nice with those around you because the success of one leads to the success of the other.

You can’t always control your brand. Stories last week revealed that many of the homeowners whose homes are featured on the program are renting them outthrough AirBnB or VRBO. Even Clint Harp, whose woodworking wonders make cameos on the show, is renting out his house, a historic two-story four square, after being unable to live without tourists driving by constantly. A half dozen homes are available for rent. That hasn’t made mama happy, as Chip would quip on the show. The couple is looking for ways to build in more restrictions on home rentals for future seasons.

The lesson: There are some problems you just can’t predict. If your brand is already strong, a few surprises won’t compromise your integrity.

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