By CHERIL VERNON
Houston business owner, motivational speaker and author Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale shared his wisdom on entrepreneur spirit, business and being successful while serving as the guest speaker for the Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce’s Quarterly Business Luncheon Tuesday at the Ben E. Keith Community Room.
“Mattress Mack” is a Texas-grown phenomenon who is known for his phrase “Save you money, today!”
In 1981, he started Gallery Furniture in Houston with $5,000 and a dream to be successful. Gallery Furniture sells the most furniture in the nation per square foot.
McIngvale attended high school in Dallas, and was a student at the University of Texas and the University of North Texas where he played football for both schools. After college, he worked at a convenience store where his boss did him a huge favor one day: firing young Mack.
Being depressed about losing his job, McIngvale recalls hearing an evangelist’s sermon on television that changed his life.
“He was talking about using our talents and I felt like he was talking right to me. ‘The world doesn’t owe you, you owe the world,’” McIngvale said during the program. “Thirty-four years later, I still remember his words. It was a watershed moment for me in my life.”
He found a job at a furniture store on the other side of town where he diligently worked, absorbing the business practices and trades of the furniture industry. Inspired, McIngvale made a decision that would forever change his life and the competitive world of retail industry: to open up his own furniture store. His brother George worked in real estate and found the perfect location to start his new business: an abandoned model home park located at 6006 I-45 North Freeway in Houston. He asked his then-girlfriend Linda to join him in Houston, and she said she would move under one condition: if they became husband and wife.
The newlyweds arrived in Houston in 1981 with $5,000 and a dream. That same year, Houston experienced a great wave of migration to the city from families all over the country, thanks in part to a boom in the auto, oil, and steel industries in the area. Perfect for McIngvale, these families needed furniture to fill their new homes, and the newly opened Gallery Furniture primarily sold value-priced furniture targeted towards blue-collar workers. Any profit the store received, he would reinvest and put back into his store by purchasing more furniture. Despite this initial success, sales began to decline.
“There were lots of great reasons to fail — but I had one great, big unfair advantage that I still have today — a desire to succeed,” McIngvale said, encouraging the audience to: “Do what you want to do, be what you want to be.”
During a dramatic halt in sales, McIngvale took the time to reevaluate his advertising strategy, which consisted of nailed signs to telephone poles and door-to-door flyers. With his last $10,000, he revamped his advertising plan by purchasing television advertisement time. He bought advertisement time on two different networks.
After a long day at the furniture store, McIngvale stopped by the television station to view the progress of his commercial production. Not liking what he saw, he stepped in at the last minute and improvised where he rapidly spoke, announcing the business practices of Gallery Furniture and ending his pitch with the now-famous “Save You Money” slogan.
The ad hoc campaign worked, and Gallery Furniture experienced huge shifts in sales. McIngvale started branching away from selling only value-priced furniture to include higher-end furniture, attracting a new set of customers to his store, but he kept the same promise to all his customers: “If you buy it today, we'll deliver it today.”
Just like he’s known for his catchy slogan, McIngvale is equally known for his generous support to various local charities. He works seven days a week, standing at his desk by the entrance to greet his customers. He expanded Gallery Furniture in early 2009 by opening a smaller-scale version of his main store in the Galleria area.
With a business that does $120 million in sales annually, McIngvale says he wouldn’t be anywhere without his customers.
“Customers are the business — the business is the customer,” McIngvale stressed. “Customers may at times seem like an inconvenience or an interruption of your workday, but they are the reason you get to be here and they should be the reason you get out of bed every day.”
He encouraged business professionals to “delight customers to grow your business.”
McIngvale even encourages his employees to go above and beyond for the customer, and if they show him via text messages or pictures four quality things they did that week (can be safety ideas or safety tips too), he gives them an extra $2 an hour that week.
McIngvale gives credit to several people for his success, starting with his parents.
“My father always had nice things to say about people. He would go out of his way to make people feel special. He also taught me persistence and to dream. He failed a lot in his life, but he always got up and got back out there,” McIngvale said. “My mother taught me my work ethic and they both always put their children first.”
Saying he “won the lottery twice,” McIngvale says he was “born in the greatest country in the world, the land of the free” and he was educated by Texas teachers who not only gave him an education but a strong work ethic.
He encouraged businesses to try to invest in America whenever possible, buying American-made products.
“We do need to refocus on what built this country — Judeo Christian worth ethics,” McIngvale said, reiterating the importance of God, family, country and work.
McIngvale also encouraged business owners to always try to spot the new trends around the corner.
“Innovate or you are going to evaporate,” McIngvale said.
In honor of McIngvale, the Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce will donate $500 to a charity of his choice.
Also during the luncheon, the Chamber announced the Business of the Quarter and Ambassador of the Quarter.
The Business of the Quarter award went to Adventure Advertising and Design Studio, owned by Lisa Priest.
Davi Killion Ingram was named the Ambassador of the Quarter.