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Expert Q & A

Chip and Joanna Gaines' Small-Town Turnaround Playbook

June 18, 2021
Mae Rice

What comes to mind first when we say, "Waco, TX?" If it's Chip and Joanna Gaines, or the HGTV show "Fixer Upper," that's their expert rebrand at work.

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Chip and Joanna Gaines haven’t completely rebranded Waco, Texas. If you Google “Waco,” the first result remains the Wikipedia page for the Waco siege. 

The 1993 standoff between the FBI and the Branch Davidians left 76 people dead. 

But when the Gaines’ HGTV show, Fixer Upper, premiered in 2013, it projected a homey, family-friendly image of Waco that stuck.

It was no accident. The Gaineses want viewers to see Waco in a positive way, like they do. 

But how did they pull it off? We asked Gaines family superfan and MarketerHire content strategist Ivory Bandoh.

They’re mega-influencers who really love Waco. 

The Gaineses have 18M+ total Instagram followers — an audience more than 100X Waco’s population— and a personal connection to the city. 

They went to college at Baylor, Bandoh noted, and lived in Waco before their show premiered. 

So when Chip says “We love Waco,” it feels authentic. (Compare that to when The Bachelor cast attempted to love Cleveland!)

Their show highlights reasons to move to Waco.

Fixer Upper is full of subtle Waco testimonials. It often spotlights new arrivals “coming back to live there from the city,” Bandoh said because they want “that slower-paced life” with a backyard for the kids.

(Spoiler: Backyards are cheaper in Waco than in Dallas — though Waco’s median home price has doubled since Fixer Upper premiered.)

They got the whole country aspiring to Waco-chic. 

The Gaineses live on a farm, and it clearly shaped their interior design sensibility. And the country’s.

“There was a huge wave of everybody wanting their house to be designed like a farmhouse,” Bandoh said. “Joanna… made that a huge thing.” 

In fact, The New York Times ran a 2019 investigation into whether we had achieved “Peak Farmhouse.”

They turned Waco into a tourist attraction. 

Bandoh wants to visit Waco one day, and she’s not alone: It attracts about 2.5 million tourists per year — 5X what it got the year Fixer Upper premiered. 

It’s almost become a Fixer Upper theme park.

Visitors can see select Fixer Upper-ed houses on guided and self-guided city tours, and the Gaineses have built out other attractions, too  — like The Silos, a cluster of boutiques with an on-site bakery, and vacation rentals.

“Everything around [the Gaineses] is desirable at this point,” Bandoh said.

Our takeaway?

Even an unlikely city can become a tourist destination, with the help of:

  • Eight years of earned influencer promotion
  • Subtle televised testimonials
  • A Target line based on the local aesthetic
  • More new reasons for tourists to visit each year

Speaking of: the Gaineses’ first hotel will open in Waco in 2021 👍

Mae Rice
about the author

Mae Rice is senior editor at MarketerHire. A long-time content marketer, she enjoys interviewing marketing experts and learning about the weird and wonderful feedback loops that connect marketing and culture. She also loves any ad that makes her say "Huh?!" — especially Tim and Eric's ad for Totino's pizza rolls, which she watches way more often than you would think.

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