Alumni of the Year: Chip and Joanna Gaines

October 1, 2015

Awarded to graduates who have demonstrated remarkable achievement in the previous year

Chip and Joanna Stevens Gaines have used their national stage to focus a positive national spotlight toward Waco and Baylor.

The Gaineses, stars of the hit HGTV show Fixer Upper, attracted a national audience of more than 24 million viewers during Season 2 of their show. The viewers admire the Gaineses not only for their hard work and sense of style in renovating and restoring homes, but also for the authenticity of Chip and Joanna’s relationship with each other and with their clients.

An April 2 HGTV and DIY Network news release attributes the growth ("double- and triple-digit ratings gains") of the show to the couple's talent and easy-going personalities. "They're fun to watch, down to earth and have the strong viewer appeal that we expect to keep this ratings juggernaut on track for many seasons to come," HGTV and DIY Network's Allison Page says.

Chip, BBA '98, is an entrepreneur who has run a variety of businesses since his college days, beginning with landscaping, fireworks stands and laundry services. Over the past 15 years, he developed an expertise in Waco real estate, including rental property, flipping houses, construction and home renovation.

"I made $30,000 on my first house flip that I ever did. It became obvious to me that I could work an entire year and make $30,000, or I could work for three months flipping a house and make the same amount of money," he explains. "I became very excited about investing in rental property and flipping property."

Although Chip and Joanna, BA '01, shared a semester at Baylor in fall 1998, they didn't meet until 2001. The couple married in 2003 and almost immediately started a business together, Magnolia Market. There, Joanna honed her eye for appealing home décor and designing interior spaces. A blog post caught the attention of High Noon Productions, a television production company that then inquired about making a television show.

Joanna's background in communications at Baylor--including television and radio experience and a New York internship at 48 Hours with Dan Rather--helped her to be comfortable in front of the cameras for HGTV, as did filming local television commercials for her father's Waco business, Jerry Stevens Firestone.

The couple now has a number of successful businesses under the Magnolia name, including home renovation and construction, the retail home décor business, a realty company and a partnership with case goods manufacturer and importer Standard Furniture to create a comprehensive furniture collection called Magnolia Home, which will be available at retailers nationwide in January 2016. Later in the year, plans call for the release of Joanna's paint line, a design book and the couple's memoir.

The new Magnolia headquarters, which houses Magnolia Market, opened in October in downtown Waco.

The Gaineses' commitment to keep their Fixer Upper renovation projects within the Waco area draws more attention to Waco and Baylor, with clips of beautiful spots around town and on campus airing in every episode. In addition, 17 of the first 26 episodes have featured Baylor alumni, faculty and staff and their homes. Chip and Joanna currently are filming Season 3 (debuts Dec. 1) and have agreed to film through Season 6.

It is no coincidence that during Fixer Upper Season 2, reports listed Waco as the No. 1 "Hottest Housing Market in the U.S." based on the ratio of listing views to the number of listings on its site in February and March.

The Gaineses' Feb. 2 appearance on NBC's Today show had an audience of nearly 5 million viewers. Joanna's testimonial video--originally shown during The Gathering, a Palm Sunday worship service in McLane Stadium--was posted April 1 on Baylor's YouTube channel. The video had more than 2.6 million views through mid-September.

"We are dumbfounded with what has transpired, but we are so excited," Joanna says. "The first day I met Chip, I was drawn to him when he said he wanted to stay in Waco--that there's something about this town he really likes. I always felt that about Waco as well.

"This town has so much potential. We love the community, love the people in it, love the small businesses, and we love that we got to plant our roots here," she explains. "There's favor on the city that goes beyond a television show. It's Waco's time to shine, and we're proud to be part of that."