Built Different, with Chip Gaines – Episode 417 of The Action Catalyst Podcast
- Posted by Action Catalyst
- On February 21, 2023
- 0 Comments
- alumni, author, Business, entrepreneur, family, leadership, Southwestern Advantage, success
Magnolia co-founder, TV personality, bestselling author, and proud Southwestern Advantage alumnus Chip Gaines talks about his beginnings selling books door to door, his true calling as a “riverboat pastor”, the hybrid of James Dean and the Marlboro Man that he called his grandfather, awakening the grizzly bear of work ethic, what L.U.C.K. really stands for, plus shares some “breaking news” about his family.
Chip Gaines is the co-owner and co-founder of Magnolia, and a New York Times bestselling author determined to keep everyone on their toes. Along with his wife Joanna, he is constantly reinventing the wheel on what they can achieve together as a company and is always eager to give back to individuals and communities.
Born in Albuquerque and raised in Dallas, Chip later graduated from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business with a Marketing degree. An entrepreneur by nature, Chip has started a number of small businesses and has remodeled hundreds of homes in the Waco area.
But more than any good adventure or hard-working demo day, Chip loves an early morning on the farm and a slow day spent with Jo and their five kids.
Learn more at Magnolia.com.
The Action Catalyst is presented by the Southwestern Family of Companies. With each episode, the podcast features some of the nation’s top thought leaders and experts, sharing meaningful tips and advice. Learn more at TheActionCatalyst.com, subscribe below or wherever you listen to podcasts, and be sure to leave a rating and review!
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(Transcribed using A.I. / May include errors):
Adam Outland: This is Adam Outland for the Action Catalyst and today’s guest, hardly needs an introduction. He’s the co-owner and co-founder of Magnolia, a company he runs with his wife, Joanna, which has grown to include signature products and home decor to real estate construction, and now its own television network.
You’ve seen him on HGTV’s Fixer Upper, and seen his books on the top of the New York Times bestseller chart, but long before any of that Chip Gaines was selling books door to door and hustling just like every other up and coming entrepreneur. So Chip, great to finally meet. I think, it was kind of a funny common connection just getting started.
I’m listening to NPR or some interview and I hear about somebody. Having done this crazy college summer job that involved large educational tomes, and a lot of door knocking, and that was part of my background as well. So I, I felt compelled to start our conversation there because I heard that the school of hard knocks was part of your story too.
Chip Gaines: That is a fact. Yes. I was at Baylor University and, a handsome young upper grad came and approached me in this amazing way that, you know, is only only I could do cuz I was a bit, well I still am a bit of a arrogant, you know, self-confident fella. And so I was like, oh man, this kid’s just picked me out of the litter.
You know, I’m gonna do great things with this kid. And boy, I mean, he had this beautiful shirt. Monte blanc pin in his shirt. And I had never seen anything like this, you know? And my, most of my college friends were, if you were like me wearing overalls and boots and you know, out fishing, and was just a total idiot who, you know, thought about school about two times a week and thought about everything but school about a hundred times a week.
But this kid, his name was Sterling, even his name sounds cool. I’m surprised. I remember it. He was a sharp looking young man, came and told me about the possibilities and I mean, I was, I was hook, line and sinker. So I was like their prime candidate.
Adam Outland: Well, this becomes a, a theme for you and a funny recruitment story. You end up selling books, and then fast forward you end up neighborhood laundrymat, lawn mowing service. So entrepreneurship to some degree, I think ran in your blood. But how do you get sparked to go do these things? What, how did, how does your brain process that decision and go, Hey, that sounds like a great way to spend my summers.
Chip Gaines: No doubt. I think my parents kind of, when you think about like a perfect storm, my parents had a lot to do with that evolution. You know, I think I was, a lot of it, you know, it’s kind of the nature nurture argument. You know, was I born this way and it was gonna happen one way or the other, or was I nurtured into it and, and my parents had so much to do with it.
So the bottom line, I, I honestly, to even as a grown adult that is. Got quite the mileage under his belt and done lots and lots of things. The thing that I am so thankful about it as it relates to my life is just the fullness of it. You know, as a 50 year old guy here in a couple of years, I think about this often, really, now that you’re getting into this kind of halfway point, maybe the 50 yard line of your life, you’re just like, man, what was it all about and what was it all for, and what was the purpose of all of that?
I have lived multiple lives, but to try and answer your question, it. I was built different, you know, my parents thought I was gonna be a pastor when I was a kid, and, and then I got into gambling as a, as a college student. So they were like, maybe not, you know, maybe, maybe they, unless there was a ga you know, a, you know, a river boat pastor.
You know, if that’s a thing, I may have qualified for . If that was a poss, if that’s a possible career path, maybe I could have done that. You know, my, I was just different. You know, I would answer the door when I was a little kid. My mom said I’d always run and look for money, and it was somebody trying to sell a candy bar or something.
So I’ve always had kind of this sympathetic, empathetic kind of a big heart. And so I was always looking to help people in that sense. But then when you flip the script, and now I’m the person knocking on the. I was built for that kind of thing. You know, I mean, I, I grew up in, in a, in a pretty normal suburban Dallas, Fort Worth kind of suburbs, uh, neighborhood.
But I was always selling, you know, lemonade at some local, you know, lemonade stand. My sister and I were constantly mowing grass around the neighborhood, and so we were always kind of starting these little quasi businesses, even as young kids and. Uh, when Sterling tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I wanted to sell books for the summer, I really did.
I mean, most kids kind of shy away from that thought. I swear to you. I was drawn to it like a mo to the flame, and then really God’s kind of opened the door multiple ways. I went to my parents that. You know, back to my point about them being a kind of a catch 22, they were very normal and, and somewhat entrepreneurial, but not just crazy entrepreneurs.
Dad worked for American Airlines up in the Dallas Fort Worth area, so he was in a traditional corporate job, and my mom was, was either a stay-at-home mom, a portion of my life, or worked at a a, a company. Ironically, this has a little tie to Southwestern’s roots, but a company called Word Incorporated that started in Waco of all places.
Of course I wasn’t from Waco, didn’t live in Waco, was never thought I’d live in Waco, but Waco for sure is my hometown. Now I’ve, I’ve all five of my children have been born here and there was a real entrepreneurial guy back in the late sixties, kind of early seventies that started this company called Word Incorporated that ended up being basically a big time book and and record label back in the eighties and the nineties, and still even today, I think they’ve been bought several times since then.
You know, when I went to tell my parents about this exper uh, experience that I had with Sterling was like, man, this kid was incredible and was telling me there’s all this opportunity to make all this money. You know, what do you think? And instead of my parents being wildly skeptical, they had a few people that they each knew.
My dad knew a few folks at American Airlines, and my mom knew a few guys that. At Word that had both had experiences through Southwestern and, and they both came back and were like, we think you should do this. We think this is gonna be great. And so the light bulb went off and uh, again, I was shipped off to, uh, Michigan and uh, it was like, uh, it was like I was built to, uh, to do this, you know?
Adam Outland: I love it. So a couple of anecdotes and this will kind of lead to another. I heard Larry Wilmore, uh, being interviewed on npr and he’s part of the Bernie Mac show, was on The Daily Show with John Stewart and all this, and then he starts opening up about how he knocked on doors selling educational books as a fundamental part of his career.
So, you, you hear all these different people and, and I remember talking to an athlete, who said, everybody who’s found some success in his opinion, Has a farm story. And what he meant by that was a story of like getting up super early on the farm, working the countless hours and just being instilled with that work ethic and while I think you could say the summer work you did was part of that, I think you’d say you, you literally, it sounded like spent some time on a farm.
Chip Gaines: That’s true, that’s true. Now I, I always try to clarify. We live on a farm now, and my kids will have the experience that, that we’re, we’re sort of describing when I was a kid.
It couldn’t have been more traditional. Literally a cul-de-sac neighborhood, uh, little town called Colleyville, Texas and mm-hmm . And, uh, it’s evolved into kind of quite the metropolis in current day. But back in my day, you know, there’s just a quiet, sleepy, middle class, little suburban town, right? Flat dab in between Dallas and Fort Worth.
Very normal, very traditional in that sense. But, and this is the point that you’re kind of scratching on, my parents both grew up in a little tiny town called Archer City, Texas, which is just outside of Wichita Falls, Texas. So Waco and Wichita Falls have just tons and tons in common and in the sense that to me, Because I grew up in the Dallas Fort Worth area.
Waco feels like a small town, but when you are born and raised in Waco and you have lots of small towns around you, those small towns look at Waco as the big town. The big town. That’s right. You know? Oh yeah. And so my parents were brought up in a very rural, very small town. I mean 15, 1600 people I think is the total population of Archer City, Texas.
And so there, they lived in that environment and my parents were the typical. Couple that, boy, they graduated from high school and could not wait to get out of that ecosystem. Mm-hmm. . Well then they have a son, chip Carter Gaines, born in 1974. Who didn’t know it. Of course, I was just a baby in 1974. I didn’t, you know, the world was my oyster.
Uh, but my parents introduced me to that Archer City ecosystem when I was probably, gosh, I mean early, you know, obviously we’d go home and see family and Christmas and Thanksgiving. So again, I was a young man, but I’m telling you, when I was. 6, 7, 8 years old. I remember it vividly like, wait, what This exists?
Like this is a life you could live here. What are my parents doing in Dallas Fort Worth? You know, this is the most incredible place I’d ever seen . So, I mean, they got to where they would drop me off, obviously when I got older. So at the beginning it was just weeks at a time and, and a week here, week there, and that was it.
But when I got to be probably. Freshman, sophomore in high school, I would ask my parents to let me stay the entire summer in Archer City with my, uh, granddad, who was jb. If you happen to have any relatives that are so cool that you don’t call him granddad or Pappy, or anything like that, I mean, hi, his name was jb.
At, at the, uh, gas station. He was JB at the bank, , and he was JB to his ac his own family, you know, around the Thanksgiving table, JB would you, uh, pass the mashed potatoes? And me and jb, boy, he taught me the ways of, of being a cowboy. And you wanna talk about, it was like hanging out with the Marlboro man.
You know, it was like James Dean and the Marlborough man had a baby. It would’ve been JB Mog, my granddad, and I mean, just the coolest, baddest dude in the literal world and I that got deep in. And the irony that, that I keep talking about with the nature versus nurture, it’s like, you know, it’s like it was just part of who my parents were and they were excited to get out of that environment and kind of move on and, and do the next, you know, stages of their life and their, uh, evolution.
Where here I was wanting to revert back to where they came from and. Uh, as soon as I was old enough to basically make choices and have money and do things that I wanted to do. I mean, I bought a little acreage here in Waco, Texas. I had a little 10 acre piece of dirt and couple of cows and I mean, it was just fascinating how I was very adamant about sort of trying to live out that piece of, uh, my parents’, uh, uh, background and, and where they had come.
Adam Outland: I actually sold books in Archer City, Texas.
Chip Gaines: No, you didn’t.
Adam Outland: I think I talked to all 10 families.
Chip Gaines: The fact you sold books in Archer City, Texas, man. Did it go well? I mean, welcoming community or not so much?
Adam Outland: 100% welcoming. I mean, I think everybody invited me in for tea at the very least. And, uh, a lot of good conversations. A lot of people care about education.
Chip Gaines: That’s incredible. What a small world dude. I had no idea. That’s amazing. Well, my parents are from that neck of the woods and I have, uh, fought like heck, trying to pretend like I was also, but you know, I was sort of, sort of adopted into it, if you will, as opposed to born and raised like my mom and dad were.
Adam Outland: I see where that migrates in directly to what you do and have now and, and part of what you’ve created.
Chip Gaines: I couldn’t agree more. And southwestern experience knocking on doors in that literal sense kind of became that wake up moment. Can you do this? Can you work harder than the guy or the gal standing next to you?
And thankfully, I mean, thankfully for me, the answer really became a resounding yes at the end of the day. All the greats have had to do something different, something that somebody else wasn’t quote unquote willing to do. And we all want to throw rocks at them. And, and I don’t mean to say this in a facetious way, but it’s easier for us to say they got lucky or this break or that break.
And of course, lo luck has some part of it and, and breaks fall for all of us positively and negatively. I mean, those folks that are born to wake up and born to do that hard work and that grueling, you know, I can literally think of a dairy farmer out there, you know, half awake trying to figure out how many of these, uh, barrels of milk they’re gonna fill up before they gotta run to school and do the rest of their day.
I mean, You know, when you think about those kind of somewhat odd or possibly romantic thoughts as it relates to work, you know, it does wake something up in some of us, and when that thing is woken up, it becomes like a grizzly bear. You know who, who wants to go and. And do great things, you know? And I guess once you kind of get in inundated with that or, or once the invitation of that idea has been kind of presented to you, it’s fascinating to watch those of us that wake up from it and then those of us who, who are kind of nonchalant and are like, I don’t really wanna be a grizzly bear.
I don’t really wanna wake up early. I don’t want to take a cold shower. I don’t want to be at the first store at eight o’clock in the morning. So that’s a fascinating thought that all of us have that farm story and how. Looks different to each of us, you know, so important.
Adam Outland: You mentioned the word luck. Someone had had shared with me a great acronym for the word Luck, that it stands for Labor Under Correct Knowledge. When you’re working hard, you tend to get lucky a little bit more often. Sure, yeah. And I think, you know, may maybe some of that applies because I can’t help but, uh, admire that part of what you’ve angel and have managed to accomplish requires an extraordinary amount of work and you.
See a, a glimpse of it when you’re hammering out a wall on television, and that’s just a, a speck in the myriad of businesses that you run. Um, you know, you’re juggling an incredible family with, uh, project after project. You’re, you’re saying yes a lot when people bring things to you in the beginning.
And it all started with Fixer Upper. You know, your, your work ethic, I feel like has to have played a massive part of what you’ve built and the legacy you’re creating. And the other thing I wanted to ask you about was actually, um, something that I think from my perspective has, has helped you as well, which is your, um, incredible sense of humor.
Chip Gaines: Yeah, these are all great questions. I, I’ve been scratching at these, you know, I started thinking, where did I get a personality like this? What, what makes me, me? And, you know, Joe and I wrestle with this a lot, what we’ve landed on, and very generally speaking, not any. Uh, secrets to the universe, but, but basically we’re all bits and pieces of people who have come before us.
I think that’s why these d n a tests have become so popular because everybody wants to know, where did I come from? What makes me me, why am I different? My beautiful wife is half Korean, so she’s got a very clear path to a full Korean mom and a full Korean grandmother that we can touch and we can talk to, and they can talk to us.
You know, it’s, it’s, it’s a little easier. For those of us on the other side of that spectrum, it’s like, yeah, I think I’ve got some German in me. I think my parents once upon a time said there was something about French Canadians in their background. You know what? What does any of this mean? So all this to say, it’s just like this idea that we come from little bits and pieces of all these people that preceded us, and this is sort of a kind of a sad, somewhat personal story, but my dad grew up in this little town called Archer City.
Yeah, my mom. Grew up in this great family. Her dad was jb, who was this mentor legend, like a bonafide. When I think of jb, a real heroic individual kind of pops into my mind when my dad’s dad comes into mind. My dad like refused to talk about him as a kid and not in a real. Bitter, angry kinda way. He just was like, don’t ask, don’t tell.
We learned really quickly, like don’t talk about dad and his upbringing. Well, his dad turns out and sorry if, uh, if I’m letting the cat out of the bag, uh, pops, I. I don’t want this to be on a newspaper somewhere. And you’d be like, well, you know, we should have talked about this in advance, but breaking news, breaking story.
My dad’s dad was a real scoundrel. He was basically a conman. He was just a bad, bad character. And so when my dad was a young man, all he remembered about this guy was that he would come and go. In and out of their lives, and he would come in and out in these seasons of kind of desperation. So the dad would basically come back to the family and be like, okay, you know, I’ve had enough.
I’m gonna turn over a new leaf. I promise this time it’s gonna be different. And he would sell my family, my dad, his brother, and obviously my dad’s mom. Who’s an angel. So she’s kind of the opposite end of the spectrum. But this bill of goods and then the, these bill of goods always fell apart. You know, he would get back into his old ways.
He would get run outta town, but he was a bonafide, he would write bounce checks, he was a conman, he was all these negative things. So as we have fast forwarded now, my dad has gone to a few kind of that side of the family funerals as of late, and he’s learned so much, not only about his dad, that he never.
But also about his dad’s mom and dad that he never met, never knew anything about his grandparents, and it just turns out that this guy actually was. Quite a character like in high school, was kinda like most likely to succeed and was gonna go off and become, you know, an actor or somebody that you know, you know, maybe, maybe wrote in the local newspaper because he just had this vivid imagination and all these great things.
And obviously life somehow, we still haven’t gotten all the facts, but somehow turned my dad’s dad in, in a real sour, sad, unfortunate direction, but, When dad and I joke about it now that dad’s gotten a little more confidence in, in his ability to kind of communicate what if there were some good things about this man life just kind of turned him inside out and upside down.
And so as I think about where did this come from, I, I have a pretty strong suspicion that my AB ability, you know, cuz when you think about it, it’s kinda like the argument that there’s a thin line that separates a genius from an insane person. You know, maybe the same argument could be. About a great salesman that’s actually honorable and, and you know, full of integrity and happens to do a great job of selling a great product from that thin line that probably separates somebody like maybe a Bernie Madoff that ends up finding himself in this terrible predicament to where he’s created this huge, enormous lie.
And he’s, he’s the mastermind behind this terrible Ponzi scheme. You. Or was he a great salesman that, that somehow lost his way in that, in that process. So anyway, without going into, into too many rabbit trails, the, the bottom line is I definitely have always been different. I’ve always cared about people.
I’ve always had this great kind of, uh, sense of sympathy or empathy, but I’ve also. Been very fearless in the sense that when I was a kid, I remember thinking in lunch, wouldn’t it be funny if I stood up and, and made this proclamation? Or if I stood up and, and sang this song and see if I could get the whole elementary lunch to kind of sing along with me.
And there’s sort of dozens of these quote unquote chip stories kind of in my wake that, that, you know, I’m proud of in some ways. But, but it definitely was this. That my parents gave me such an inre, my sister Bo. Such an incredible chance, you know, such a great start in the sense that they were both incredible P people.
They were great parents to my sister and I. They were people of faith, so they introduced us in. Into our relationship with God and, and how we view him even today, you know, as a, as a, as a, as a middle-aged adult. And, but, but when I think back about my dad’s dad, sometimes I get a little smile on myself, uh, on my face thinking, you know, I bet some of my kind of wily.
Kind of rambunctious, kind of crazy personality. Probably came from something in that d n A pool. But because I was, I was fostered in such a healthy way, maybe opposite of the way that potentially life fostered him, you know, I landed in this really great green pasture to where I love to create opportunities.
I love to build businesses. I love my wife, I love my kids. I mean, I’m kind of sold out in just about every category you could be sold out in. But bottom line, You know, I don’t do it in this crummy, you know, uh, materialistic, right? Yeah, exactly. Kind of way. It’s not like, you know, people say, you know, when is enough enough?
And for us it’s never been about, you know, enough is it has nothing to do with it, you know? I, it’s just opportunities and experiences and the next step that I feel like the next door that God opens, Joe and I are anxious to kind of burst through that door and kind of see what’s on the other side. . And so, but when you think about family and business and faith and all these things kind of piece together, I, I do remember as a young kid kind of looking at the world and realizing I certainly was different.
You know, I was different than most of the kids I grew up with, and not necessarily in a positive or a negative, but I just was, was anxious to kind of step out and take chances. And risk and fail and all the things that you hear about in some context like that, and I, I can only assume that probably comes from that side of the family.
Adam Outland: Chip and I will continue our talk in episode 418 of the Action Catalyst. So join us then to keep listening and don’t forget to follow the Action Catalyst wherever you listen to podcasts, to get new episodes, bonus episodes, and more the minute they drop.