Martha Stewart is a name almost everyone knows. Maybe not the younger generation but certainly everyone in my sphere. I spent many an hour reading her magazine, watching her old cooking shows and leafing through her many books on how to set the perfect table or how to bake the perfect pie. Martha has been around for a long time and has remained a well-respected brand despite the fact that she went to prison for five months for lying about her sale of ImClone stock. I’m not sure that bothered me as much as three things that have always bothered me about her. Well, maybe there are four.
The first was during a show when she was demonstrating how to make a special decoration. She actually looked into the camera and directed me to go up in the attic and fetch the box of buttons I had been collecting over the years so I could pick out some gold and silver ones. At the time I was living in an apartment with no attic access and I did not have a box of collectible buttons anywhere in the apartment. The second time Martha was in her home in Westport, CT showing the viewers how to make the perfect Christmas wreath. She suggested we go into the backyard to cut some pine boughs from a tree. You guessed it, I didn’t have any pines or firs, just maples and birch. I was in trouble again and I remember talking back to the television that time. The third time I was in New York City on business and while I was waiting for my meeting to start I was looking out a window in the high story building I was visiting. Lo and behold, there was Martha Stewart in one of her studios getting ready for a show. The buildings were close so I could get a pretty good view. I watched as her staff prepared the set for whatever it was they would be making and caught a minute of an animated Martha yelling at the staff about something I could not hear. Something was amiss and it gave me pause. It made me think about the fourth reason I had been turned off by this tremendously successful business woman. She seemed to have a bit of a mean streak and an air of indifference about her. Not warm and fuzzy. I hear she is hanging out with Snoop Dog now, so maybe all the above has improved.
Now let me get to the reason I am saying move over Martha.
Who watches HGTV? They have given us a variety of how-to shows focused on home renovation. I became a fan of Fixer Upper for the five seasons it aired. You may know the show that starred Chip and Joanna Gaines, a young couple from Waco, Texas. He’s a real estate pro and builder and she is a designer. They are parents to four, soon to be five children. They take houses that need a lot of help and make them into someone’s dream home.
Chip and Joanna both graduated from Baylor University in Waco. They say fate brought them together and they began remodeling homes immediately after they were married. They didn’t have much money and they were frugal with their choices, slowly beginning to build a business.
Fast forward several years and they have built a brand named Magnolia that includes a real estate company, construction company, design firm, residential subdivision, a couple of bed and breakfasts, home store, bakery, warehouse store, restaurant, seasonal magazine and have both authored books, the most recent being Joanna’s cookbook, Magnolia Table, named after their new restuarant. I failed to mention they have a homeware line in Target and now have their brand on rugs, pillows and furniture. All this, in a short time, while raising four children with a fifth due in several weeks. Out of breath yet?
I was so impressed with them and that I began to look for cracks. I mean, could they really be as loving and funny and real as they seem to be ? I was struck by the Magnolia brand and how quickly it had grown. Knowing a little bit about running businesses it amazed me that they could be so successful in such a short period of time.
My husband, who watches little television, did watch this show with me, also in awe of what they could do with each of the homes they remodeled. You couldn’t help but enjoy an hour with Chip and Jo. Their quirky personalities and obvious love for what they do and for each other draws you in.
I wanted to experience the brand first hand so my husband and I flew to Waco, Texas to check it out. We stayed a few days and really enjoyed our visit. The bluebonnets were popping up and the weather was pretty nice. The food was good and they have a Mammoth dig site. Pretty cool to see. Waco is situated about halfway between Dallas and Austin. Home to Baylor, it has about 130,000 residents and sits on the Brazos River.
We hit the Silos District first because it was mid-week and I wanted to get into the Magnolia Home Store before the weekend crowds. Chip and Jo bought the Silos, pictured above, and an adjacent warehouse which is the store. It is fantastic. Very large, beautifully decorated and well managed. It was late morning and I would guess there was a crowd of about a couple hundred people milling in and out of the store. The main check out line had at least ten registers with two employees per register. Same scenario at the front registers. And get this, in the back of the store FedEx has set up shop right next to the shipping bays. The FedEx truck is there throughout the day picking up the hundreds of boxes to be mailed. How smart is that? If you spend $100 or more Magnolia pays for the shipping. I forgot to mention the greeters at the door as you enter. I hear if you go Saturday morning Joanna’s mother may greet you.
I needed to find someone to talk with and I settled on a woman behind the jewelry counter. She was about my age. There was more than one “senior” working in the store. She was lovely and she was more than willing to answer any questions I had. She loves working for Magnolia and says Chip and Jo are very interested in employee suggestions to improve the business and overal customer experience. While I was looking at the jewelry she noticed I had to lean down to look at the pieces and asked me what I thought about the antique wood display table. I told her I thought it was too low and would take away from people’s view of the jewelry. She agreed and said she would make a suggestion to Jo to add height to the table or change it out. She also said, what you see on tv is real and the couple is authentic and caring and have been a tremendous asset to the city of Waco. I bought a leather and brass necklace.
If you do get to go to Waco and you are at the Silos you will notice there is a very large grassy area in between the store and the silos. It is a community gathering place, a theme of Joanna’s, with permanent food trucks, dining pavillion, and garden shop. They have lawn games for the kids, music playing and comfortable seating. We hung out there twice and were amazed by the friendly atmosphere and the number of people that use it.
Then on to Magnolia Table which had just recently opened. Chip’s dream of owning a breakfast joint has come true. They bought the historic Elite Diner (Elvis ate there) and transformed it the way Jo transforms old buildings. Perfectly. There was a wait to get in, but while you wait you have choices. You can go to the Take Away Market at the end of the restaurant or stay outside and grab a coffee from the Magnolia Coffee Kiosk and hang out at community tables under the pergola until they text you that your table is ready. The food was fantastic, the service excellent and the organization of the staff was like that of the Home Store. We went into the Take Away Market and I struck up conversation with an employee there, a woman older than me and very interested in learning where I was from. She gushed about how blessed she felt being able to get a job at her age in such a wonderful place, and like the woman at the store, told me that Chip and Jo treated everyone like family and took very good care of them, always seeking out their ideas. She went on to tell me about the countless things they have done to improve the community. It was definitely a theme.
Then we found Waco Tours. In one of the Fixer Upper episodes they renovated a house for a bachelor from Waco. His name is David Ridley. Do you remember that episode? Since then David got married and opened Waco Tours. He credits Chip and Jo for the opportunity. Since Fixer Upper first aired tourists have been flocking to the city. There was no organized tour operation to showcase all Waco has to offer, so David took a risk and started Waco Tours. The tour runs 2 1/2 hours and was great. We got the lay of the land, lots of history and confirmation that none of us would be there on the tour bus if Chip and Jo had not made the impact they have since Fixer Upper first aired.
These two people have created hundreds of jobs, given back to their community ten-fold and maintained a fairly private home life. I am impressed with them as people and with their brand. I think Martha has some serious competition.
If you haven’t seen HGTV’s Fixer Upper check it out. They are showing re-runs of all seasons.
Peace and Love,