Book review April 2017: The Magnolia Story

By Chip and Joanna Gaines
2016, Thomas Nelson Publishing
208 pages, Hardcover $15.99, e-read edition $13.99

In a Nutshell: The autobiographical story of Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of the HGTV show “Fixer Upper”

Who’s it for? General audiences, HGTV junkies, couples that work together

Author Quote: “I always thought that the ‘thriving’ would come when everything was perfect, and what I learned is that it’s actually down in the mess that things get good.”

Many will recognize Chip and Joanna Gaines from the successful HGTV show “Fixer Upper.” “The Magnolia Story” tells their background story beginning with how the couple first met through the challenges and triumphs they experience running a business together.

“The Magnolia Story” has held first position in the business category on the New York Times bestseller list for several months. While some may question how the book fits into the business category, in actuality, few books profile start-up family businesses, let alone one where the decision makers are married to one another.

The somewhat short book tells “The Magnolia Story” story with dual narration. Joanna’s accounts of their journey are nicely accompanied by Chip’s humorous clarifications (or embellishments) of the same events. We hear about each of their lives growing up in Texas before they meet in Waco, Texas.

Chip Gaines has all the makings of a serial entrepreneur. Since childhood he has run countless enterprises based on unmet market needs and his relentless tenacity. In fact, Chip proves to get itchy anytime things become too normal. He meets up with Joanna who is his polar opposite – introverted and risk adverse. Organized Joanna is put off when laid back Chip shows up late 90 minutes for their first date. Somehow the date goes well and they both quickly realize that there is a strong mutual attraction in their opposing personalities.

Chip has been fixing up and selling older homes in Waco for several years, well before the term “flipping” became popular. Joanna grew up in an entrepreneurial family and dreams of “someday” opening a gift and home accessory store. She is hesitant to make her move, but Chip’s gung-ho/the future is now attitude convinces Joanna to barrel ahead and open the store, which becomes an overnight success.

Joanna finds that her style sense works well for selling the homes that Chip has rehabbed and wants to sell. They move into homes they fix up. At one point Joanna is content in her dream home only to learn that Chip has sold it and bought the family another.

Most businesses never make it out of the “mom and pop” transitioning into what is considered a “second stage” company that creates jobs and economic activity for its community. The Gaines eventually make this transition, but not without growing pains.

For years the Gaines fund their next project with the profit from the previous one. They slowly increase the scale of their business and build up their line of credit with their bank. When the Great Recession of 2008-’09 finally hits their part of Texas, the bank reduces the line and the company struggles. This adversity forces Chip and Joanna to pull things together using a blend of faith, strategy, and strong communication to make their business survive.

Despite its autobiography-based narrative, “The Magnolia Story” provides useful lessons for business owners. If you don’t own a business, the Gaines’ story stands on its own recounting how Chip and Joanna learned how to work effectively together. It takes time for them to recognize and appreciate the differences in their personalities. Instead of these differences being a source of friction, their complementing skills form a very successful company.

“The Magnolia Story” focuses more on how the Gaines built their business before their HGTV TV show “Fixer Upper” came to fruition. In the end, readers will realize that the Gaines have learned to live their dreams and balance what is important to their family.

Chris Wendel is a business services consultant with Northern Initiatives, a community development financial institution that offers business lending and assistance for economic development projects throughout Michigan. Wendel lives and works in Traverse City and can be reached at