Jim McIngvalePerson of the Year: Jim McIngvale


Person of the Year: Jim McIngvale

Jim McIngvale

Houston’s Wonder Man Has Heart Of Gold

by Minnie Payne
Photos Courtesy Love Advertising

It is said that in many cases some people have a heart of gold and certainly, Houstonians, and otherwise, will agree that 66-year-old Jim McIngvale, “Mattress Mack,” fits this description many times over.  To quote the Irish proverb “No good deed goes unpunished.” by writer Oscar Wilde , if McIngvale doesn’t receive enough gratification from his good deeds on Earth, he will undoubtedly be rewarded in the hereafter.

James “Jim” McIngvale, also known as Mattress Mack, was born on Feb. 11, 1951, in Starkville, Mississippi.  He is the second son of six children.  His father, George McIngvale, was a business owner, and his mother, Angela McIngvale, was a stay at home mother. He is married to Linda McIngvale, and they have three children, daughters Elizabeth McIngvale and Laura McIngvale Brown, and son James McIngvale, Jr.

McIngvale grew up in Dallas, graduating from Bishop Lynch High School. The University of Texas and the University of North Texas, where he participated in football, added to his education, but he became disenchanted and dropped out of college. As with many dropouts, he found himself in a $3-an-hour menial labor convenience store job without a future. As McIngvale often relates, his boss did him a huge favor by firing him.

But McIngvale is not one to sit on his haunches, and as anyone in his shoes would experience, he was bored and feeling sorry for himself. TV evangelist Oral Roberts changed that, though, when one Sunday morning, McIngvale turned on the TV to hear Roberts say, “Get up, go to work and make something of your life.”  McIngvale relates, “I can remember that like it was yesterday. I felt like he was talking to me straight through the television.”

The following Monday, he got a job at a Dallas furniture store 40 miles from his parents’ home; with no car, he rode the bus two hours both ways every day (Which days of the week?) for 18 months.  He learned his trade well.

At age 32, the entrepreneur bug bit and he decided he wanted to start his own furniture store, so he called his real estate brother George in Houston who found the original store location at 6006 I-45 North Freeway.  His then-girlfriend Linda told him that she would come with him, if he agreed to marry her.

In 1981, with $5,000 in the bank and a will to succeed, he and Linda started business in an abandoned, un-heated/un-air conditioned model home park, formerly occupied by a build-on-your-own-lot home building company.  Luck was with them that same year, in that a boom in the auto, oil, and steel industries caused an influx of people from all over the country to the Houston area.  Families needed furniture, and Gallery Furniture’s then-value-priced furniture fit the bill.  Profits were reinvested and put back into the store by purchasing more furniture.  But just as their business had peaked, they started experiencing a decline.

Reaching for a solution, McIngvale decided to change his advertising tactics of nailed signs to telephone poles and door-to-door flyers.  With his last $5,000, he purchased advertisement time on an independent station, channel 26.  

After many attempts, McIngvale had one final take left for his commercial. Out of desperation and with time running out, he rapidly spoke about Gallery Furniture, reached into his back pocket and pulled out a wad of money, then shouted his now-famous pitch: “Gallery Furniture will Save You Money.”

His strategy was successful, and Gallery Furniture shifted from a valley to a peak, making it possible to sell high-end furniture to a new set of customers to whom he still promises, “If you buy it today, we’ll deliver it today.”

You might compare McIngvale to the energizer bunny, and he expects the same from his employees.  He thinks big and expects those who help him to think big.  He says that sometimes it isn’t easy to work for him, admitting, “I do have a volatile temper and I tend to be too harsh.” His philosophy is “Late to bed and early to rise, work like hell, and advertise.” Gallery Furniture is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and McIngvale works seven days a week. He maintains that he doesn’t ask his employees to do anything that he wouldn’t do and often lifts furniture around the store with his employees. A perk for his employees is three free meals a day, but you have to eat while working – no sitting down.  

McIngvale shows his gratefulness to Houstonians, and otherwise, through a giving heart, exemplifying that generosity goes hand in hand with gratefulness. His generosity is too vast to list, but tens of thousands of Houstonians attest to it.  At Christmastime, 30 needy Houston families receive households of furniture. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo receives contributions directly towards college scholarships. The city of Houston is grateful for much, including his attending the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, using his own money to campaign for Houston’s bid for the 2008 games.  He donated money to the Bush-Clinton Tsunami Relief Fund. In 2009, Gallery Furniture committed to providing new furniture to various USO centers around the world. The first Mobile Stroke Unit in the USA for patients in Houston is one of his special projects.  Because his younger daughter, Elizabeth McIngvale, struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), he is a strong supporter for the cause of mental illness.  

On Thanksgiving in 1992, 20,000 homeless Houstonians ate three tons of turkey, 3,000 pounds of dressing, 600 gallons of gravy and 12,000 pounds or sides – all provided by McIngvale.  

Catholicism is his faith, and in 1999, he took his family to Rome where he is said to have had a religious awakening, prompting him to pay more than $500,000 to send 300 students and teachers from each of the Galveston-Houston diocese’s 60 schools.

In 2014, he predicted that the Houston Astros wouldn’t win 63 games. They won 70, and to promote his 63rd birthday, he gave back more than $4 million to customers. Earlier that year, he refunded about $8 million, after he predicted the Denver Broncos would beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.  The Broncos lost. 

Jim McIngvaleIn December 2017, McIngvale gave back more than $10 million when he rebated fans who spent more than $3,000 on mattresses and beds because the Astros won the World Series.

In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey came with a vengeance to the Houston area, and through his love for Houstonians, McIngvale opened two of his stores, allowing the afflicted to live and sleep on brand new mattresses and furniture. His company’s moving trucks rescued trapped people from their homes or stranded on highways.  His comment to TIME Magazine was “We’re just trying to supplement where we can.” He predicts emotional issues for those affected by Harvey, in that it will take years of cleanup and recovery efforts. “The flooding is over and the hard part has just begun,” he remarked. Also, in 2005, during Hurricane Katrina, he opened two of his stores to 400 misplaced New Orleans residents.  

As a reward to Hurricane Harvey first responders, military veterans, and devoted fans, he treated about 80 passengers to a chartered 737 all-expenses-paid plane trip to the World Series.  

To sum up James “Jim” “Mattress Mack” McIngvale in a nutshell, one of his quotes says it all – “Why work so hard if you can’t do something positive with what you earn.”