Making a big impact in your hometown

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We were taking a family trip, heading towards Austin, Texas. Due to spending too much time visiting a zoo, we weren’t going to make it to Austin that night, so I told Marie that we were probably going to end up spending the night in Waco Texas, and I saw her eyes light up.

Just a few years ago if you mentioned the city of Waco to anyone over the age of 35 their mind would haved gone to the FBI standoff with the Branch Davidian cult that ended in disaster in the early 90’s. That incident put the city of Waco on the map of people's consciousness.

So I was a little surprised that Marie was excited to stop in Waco until she mentioned that Waco was where Chip and Joanna Gaines were from and where they had their Magnolia store.

Our plans for the next morning immediately changed as we were now going to spend the morning at the Magnolia store. And it quite an experience as it should be.

Magnolia isn't in the downtown district or the shopping district, you go to the middle of the old run-down industrial area where it doesn’t look like anything has been built, or even seriously remodeled, for the last 30 years. Just a bunch of run-down factories, workshops and warehouses; and there in the middle is a large city block that is dominated by two old grain storage silos and a long industrial shop that looks like it was built in the 1940s, along with some other various small buildings and sheds. You could tell that this block was an eyesore within a larger eyesore of a rundown industrial center of a somewhat old and tired town that hadn’t seen vibrant growth in decades.

To my right I noticed a small brick building with the name Magnolia Bakery. Already there was a line out the door and around the block waiting to get in to buy some baked goods. Then I realized that even though we arrived at 9:00 AM on a Tuesday morning parking was hard to find, the empty deserted parking lots of the nearby old factories were being used and still we had to drive a block away to find parking. I saw people directing traffic and people greeting as you walked into the gates of the complex. I finaaly undersood my wife's excitement and I feared for my walled. We had just landed ourselves at the disneyland of Texas

The long old factory remade into a very cool looking store that had left so much of the old industrial feel in place and utilized it to give the store character. One corner brick building redone into a bakery, one shed remade into a seed store for gardeners, another rebuilt into a gardening supply store. The large open area on this city block made into a courtyard with green astroturf to make it a kid-friendly, family play area. I saw swings on the edges, large checkerboards, cornhole games and massive bean bag chairs sitting all over. What a fun place to hang out and play. They even used part of the old half shed with tin roof that they pulled the trucks through to load and empty the grain into the grain elevators, and really creatively, made it into a stage for performances looking out onto the courtyard green, complete with lights tucked up under the tin roof to light the stage. To top it off, the other two walls of this large courtyard were lined with around 16 food trucks, each with their own self contained business.

And destination it was. I did an informal poll of the people that I met there; asking where they were from, answers ranged from Kansas, Oklahoma, Dallas, Lufkin TX, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Kentucky, San Antonio, TX, Houston, TX and we were from Michigan. People were willing to drive early on a Tuesday morning in November. This place was THE place. The destination to draw people to this sleepy little town in the middle of Texas.

This place was a great example of how to run a good business. Their prices were exorbitantly high and people were flocking in to buy. I pointed out to my son how they had taken a clear small glass mason jar (cost maybe $1), put a bunch of wooden matches in it (cost $0.25), put a tin lid on it (maybe $0.25) with a sandpaper sticker on top of the lid, labeled it with Magnolia and called it “jar o matches” and sold it for $15. The store was packed, and I do mean packed. The line wrapped around the block for the bakery and the food trucks were doing brisk business.

Chip and Joanna Gaines are brilliant. Not only did they build a successful home design and remodeling business, but they parlayed that, combined with their fun, authentic, winsome personalities, into a HDTV show that made them not just well-known in their hometown, but world recognized and loved celebrities. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t love Chip and Joanna, their show was incredibly popular, and interestingly, they made the show highlight not just their work but also their hometown of Waco. Giving the broader world a reason, other than a disastrous cult standoff, to think of Waco. Then they used that show and their celebrity status to publicize the buying, restoring and opening a store on what used to be a worn-down wreck of a grain elevator and industrial block.

So, if you have seen the show or know anything about them you know that they are smart, likable, and have done alright for themselves. Good for them.

But what I saw is how they used their celebrity status. You see, most celebrities have great business opportunities pitched to them all the time, where they can take their name, face or voice and endorse someone else's product and make tons of money. Or, the smarter ones build their own brand name then slap that brand name on products from perfumes, clothing lines, sports equipment, and then National or International store chains carry those lines of product converting their nationwide celebrity into nationwide sales. Everyone from Martha Stewart to Kardashians and scores of others have followed this proven formula of successfully building and capitalizing on their celebrity brand status.

But Chip and Joanna Gaines did something unusual, they went local.

They had a National or larger fan base but instead of creating the Magnolia brand and selling it through Target or Amazon they instead created a local store in their favorite hometown of Waco. But they took it a step further, they didn’t just grab the best location in the nicest Waco shopping district, the cool downtown location or go up the road to upscale locations in Dallas next to the Apple store. They took the forgotten, neglected and looked like it needed to be torn down block in the middle of the industrial area that had two perfectly useless grain storage elevators and an old industrial building along with a collection of sheds.

This is a business that seemingly breaks all the ‘location, location, location’ rules.

With some creativity and vision, they bought it, turning it into a collection of stores and small businesses that provide a shopping experience worthy of drawing people from states away and leaving people stamped with the memory of their experience. Shopping and paying $15 for a ‘jar o matches’. They provided employment for a bunch of people in their hometown, they revitalized some of the worst parts of Waco, and you could just start seeing the coffee shops and restaurants, and even a coworking space popping up in the old industrial buildings in the blocks surrounding Magnolia. They made Waco into a tourist destination.

They made a huge impact in a small pond.

They could have just sold products under their brand name at Target and killed it, but they decided to do their own thing, in their own way, in their own town. Maybe they didn’t fully capitalize on their celebrity, maybe they left potential money on the table. But they sure have made a significant, and what I am guessing, long-standing impact on their town. Yeah, I think Chip and Joanna are doing fine financially, and maybe they could have sold through Amazon and made a few more million. Then they could have given those after-tax millions to their local community NFP organizations who were working to revitalize the city and area of Waco, or they could just launch their local business and have that business make the local impact that the community organizations only dream about.

It seems that the vision we are always given for growing a business is to get that business to a regional or national or international presence but what if instead we made a massive impact in our local community.


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