23 Business Lessons from “Mattress Mack” $5k to $150 Million with only 3 Local Furniture Stores (Case Study)

By paulchittenden

More...

Mattress Mack Business Lessons

Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale is a beloved and legendary businessman in Houston, Texas. 

He is well known for his love of God, family, and generosity.

Yet, he may be better known for his ~$10 million World Series bets on his hometown Astros placed to offset another big bet - free furniture for his customers if the Astros won!

Follow his story below to see how he went from $5,000 in his pocket to a reported $300 million net worth, and the lessons we can pull out of his story.

Or, If you want to skip the timeline and go directly to the business lessons, follow the links here:

Gallery Furniture Exterior

Photo Courtesy of Gallery Furniture


Young Jim McIngvale | The Early Days

Jim McIngvale, one of five children, was born in Starkville, Mississippi on February 11, 1951. 

He and his family moved to Dallas when he was around 5, where he later attended Bishop Lynch High School. He was a four-year letterman in football and baseball and was also on the golf, cross country, and basketball teams. He played in the football stadium named after his father.

His father, George McIngvale Sr. was an accomplished businessman in his own right, an insurance salesman who eventually ended up owning and operating an insurance company in Dallas. George McIngvale helped raise the money to start Bishop Lynch High School. They weren’t rich, but Jim grew up in an upper middle class home.

Jim went on to attend the University of Texas and North Texas State University (University of North Texas) in Denton, played football, and was a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. Although, he didn’t graduate with that coveted degree.

After his final football game, McIngvale’s coach asked him what he was going to do. Jim didn’t really have any plans, but blurted out he was going to start a health club. As an active athlete, fitness was a great interest, so he did just that.

Jim went into action immediately. He talked to his father, called Nautilus for workout equipment, and secured a lease. His club was an immediate hit (Lesson 1 - Take Action. All Good Things Need to Start from Somewhere).

Jim, who had bigger dreams, wanted to open a second location. So, he went back to his dad. His father, who had invested in the concept, cautioned him. Was the first location perfected? Was it wise to open up a second location so soon? Jim went forward anyway (Lesson 2 - Get a Second Opinion. Seek Out Mentors).

With a second location up and running and seeing immediate success (profitability), Jim went on to open a third location, then a fourth, and a fifth, and sixth. Jim was enjoying the success and notoriety around town.

Mattress Mack Meets Muhammad Ali

Photo via Unknown author, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL, via Wikimedia Commons

Muhammad Ali was in Dallas promoting an exhibition match during this time. Jim McIngvale, the consummate promoter, headed on over to promote his health clubs at the event. Ali asked for someone to step into the ring and go a few rounds. Jim volunteered, stepped into the ring with the champ, and knocked him out cold. He even insulted the champ, angering the crowd. Ali jumped up and admitted it was all set up. Here’s Jim, in the ring with Ali, the crowd cheering and laughing (Lesson 3 - Make Things Happen. Once in a Lifetime Opportunities Only Happen Once in a Lifetime).

However, the health club business was struggling. Jim was a hands-on manager. He was struggling to run all 6 clubs effectively. He also didn’t account for churn. He wasn’t able to keep up and eventually had to file bankruptcy (Lesson 4 - Pay Attention to Your Customers).

Having experienced success and now in financial ruin, McIngvale went into a deep depression.

On a Sunday morning, depressed and sitting on the couch, McIngvale tuned the TV to televangelist Oral Roberts. In his sermon Roberts said, “Get up, go to work and make something of your life. Recalling this, Jim says, “I can remember that like it was yesterday. I felt like he was talking to me straight through the television.” (Lesson 5 - Always be Listening. Inspiration Can Come From Anywhere)

Oral Roberts Inspired Mattress Mack

Immediately after, Jim McIngvale got a job at a furniture store. With no vehicle, his girlfriend, Linda, would drive him to and from work. When he felt sorry for her, he would take the 1-hour bus ride to and from work across town. He was learning the trade and absorbing everything (Lesson 6 - Learn the Business Before Jumping In. Take Your Career for a Test Drive).

He worked at the furniture store for a year and a half before he decided he wanted to open up a store of his own. Morally, Jim couldn’t open the store in Dallas and compete with his employer (Lesson 7 - Loyalty, Loyalty, Loyalty).

Going Out on His Own | Success & Struggles

In 1981, Jim McIngvale told his girlfriend, Linda, they were moving to Houston to open a furniture store. His brother George worked in commercial real estate in Houston and helped secure  a location. Still, Linda refused. It took a bit of convincing, but she finally accepted - after a marriage proposal (Lesson 8 - Burn the Ships. Sink or Swim Your Way to Success).

Jim McIngvale and Family

Photo Courtesy of Gallery Furniture

His first store, Gallery Furniture was an un-air conditioned model home park, which was previously owned by a home building company. It wasn’t much, but Jim made it work.

Jim had only $5,000 to his name and a truck at the time he started Gallery Furniture. Luckily, he was introduced to a Houston angel investor who was to loan him $100,000 to buy inventory. After arriving in Houston, McIngvale met with the angel investor who gave the unfortunate news that he had changed his mind. Jim had no startup capital. 

Jim wouldn’t let this stop him. He had committed to this dream, and he was going to make this happen no matter what. With only $5,000, he couldn’t afford much inventory at his new store. In fact, if he had a good day of sales, he’d have to drive up to the supplier in Dallas to restock for the next day. (Lesson 9 - Find the Side Door. Don't Let Rejection Stop You)

Truck Money Road

Now, Jim had impeccable timing. 1981 was the peak of the oil boom. People from all over the country were moving to Houston to make big money in the oilfield, and they all needed furniture. His only advertising in the early days consisted of his tents on the freeway, signs tacked to the telephone poles, and door to door flyers (Lesson 10 - Big Things Have Small Beginnings. Think Big, Start Small).

Gallery Furniture First Store Mattress Mack

Photo Courtesy of Gallery Furniture

No banks would lend the McIngvale’s any money, so they had to reinvest all their profits for more inventory. 

Things were great until roughly a year later, when the oilfield crashed due to oversupply. Things took a rough turn.

Struggling, and down to his last $10,000, Jim McIngvale decided to take a gamble on television advertising. He put $5,000 on one station and his last $5,000 on another, hedging his bets (Lesson 11 - Always Be Testing. Budget for Experimental Marketing).

He had bought the lowest cost ad time, running commercials in between old sitcoms and wrestling matches next to compensation lawyer and trade school ads.

While shooting the commercial, “Mack” was unhappy with what he saw. With limited studio time, Jim decides he’ll do it himself. Completely off the cuff, he starts pitching his company. With a few seconds left, he reaches into his back pocket which contained the cash from the day’s sales, holds it up in the air for all to see, and exclaims, “Gallery Furniture will SAVE YOU MONEY!” (Lesson 12 - The Trademark Technique. Name Your Thing for Immediate Recall)

A Furniture Mogul is Born | From Nobody to Local Celebrity

The commercials were a hit! Sales jumped by 1,000%. Mcingvale doubled down and bought more ads. It was reported that you couldn’t watch TV or listen to the radio for more than 15 minutes without hearing “SAVE YOU MONEY!” (Lesson 13 - Double Down on What is Working for Big Results & Lesson 14 - Be Everywhere. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition.)

Indeed, sales climbed to $25 million by 1987.

Jim was always trying new angles and stunts.

One day, he cut out arm and leg holes in a mattress. He then appeared in a series of television commercials wearing his mattress costume. 

Mattress Mack Save You Money Commercial

Photo Courtesy of Gallery Furniture

“Mattress Mack” was born (Lesson 15 - Be "That" Guy. Be Known for Something).

Mattress Mack credited a tire store owner from another Texas town for inspiring the mattress idea. He said:

“I read a story about a guy in a small west Texas town who had a tire store and was about to go broke, and he started wearing a tire wherever he went. He wore a tire to PTA meetings. He wore a tire to Little League. He wore a tire to church. He became known as the tire man and got rich in that town selling tires. I figured if he could wear a tire, I could wear a mattress. And I started wearing mattresses.” (Lesson 16 - Always be Learning. Borrow Lessons from Other Industries)

Mattress Mack | The Gambler


We’re not talking about gambling in the traditional sense. We’re talking about unbelievable promos that have resulted in big profits and some big losses.

Mattress Mack has been known to make some big bets on sports teams, offering 100% refunds on furniture bought by his customers.

Still, the losses incurred on free furniture are more than made up for by the branding and PR opportunities that turned this local celebrity into a nationally known furniture pitchman.

Gambling for Furniture

2014 Pigskin Promo & Astros Bets

In 2014 Mattress Mack made two bets - one on the Super Bowl and one on the Astros

In the “Pigskin Promo,” Mattress Mack placed his bet on the Denver Broncos to win Super Bowl XLVIII. 

Gallery Furniture PigSkin Promo

Photo Courtesy of Gallery Furniture

He would offer a full refund for customers who bought at least $6,000 worth of furniture. The Seattle Seahawks won and Mattress Mack had to issue $7,000,000 in refunds.

KHOU reported a local customer who had budgeted only $3,000 to $5,000 on furniture, ended up spending $10,400 when she saw the promotion.

Later that same year, Mattress Mack bet against his beloved hometown Astros. He is a huge Astros fan, so perhaps he thought more people would take him up on his offer to allow them to bet for their hometown team! 

If the Houston Astros won at least 63 games, he would provide refunds for the first 500 customers to spend over $6,300. The Astros pulled it off, and Mattress Mack was on the hook for $4,000,000 in refunds (Lesson 17 - Make Calculated Bets. No Promotion is Worth Going Out of Business).

2015 $85 and It’s Free! Promotion

In 2015, Mattress Mack bet on oil prices called, “$85 and It’s Free!” If the price of West Intermediate Crude hit $85 on the close of Trading on the last day of the year. 

The promotion was only for customers who had purchased $7,000 or more. WTI did not hit the mark. Mattress Mack won this bet.

2016 Trump or Hillary? Promotion

In 2016, Mattress Mack offered 100% refunds or a gift card for 150% of the purchase price of mattress purchases, if they could guess the political party that would go on to win the presidency. 

Trump won, and Gallery Furniture issued ~$10,000,000 in refunds (it would have been $13 million if Hillary won).

2017 Houston Astros World Series Promotion

In June of 2017, Mattress Mack promised refunds for all customers who bought $3,000 worth of beds and mattresses if the Astros won the World Series. The Astros win resulted in $10 million in refunds. 

This time Mattress Mack took out an insurance policy for 10-20% of the furniture value he’d have to pay back. He also placed $1 million in bets on the Astros to win to balance out the risk of the promotion (Lesson 18 - Hedge Your Bets. Maximize Returns, but Limit Risks).

2019 Astros World Series Promotion

Again, Mattress Mack’s promotion was on his beloved Houston Astros to win the World Series. If the Astros took it all, Gallery Furniture would refund all mattress purchases of $3,000 or more.

He had approximately ~$20 million in furniture on the line. To hedge his bet, Mattress Mack placed $13 million in bets on the Astros in multiple states. 

Mattress Mack Astros Bet Twitter

With the Astros loss to the Washington Nationals, Mattress Mack lost his bet, but didn’t have to refund the furniture costs. After the loss, Jim said: 

Mattress Mack Jim McIngvale Mackism

"

I didn't break even. My heart is broken, because I'm an Astros fan. I don't bet with my wallet, I bet with my heart, and the city's heart is broken.


Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale

For the Love of His Community | Charitable Acts & “Accidental Marketing”


In Mattress Mack’s book, “Always Think Big” he readily admits you would not be too impressed with his charitable giving in his younger years. 

As he got older, he became much more intentional about the causes he supports and has significantly increased the amount of time, effort, and dollars he provides to charitable causes. 

In his book, he calls this “Accidental Marketing.” Go to Lesson 19 to learn more about this concept (Lesson 19 - Accidental Marketing. ROI on Doing Good).

Supporting Our Community Houston

A Christmas Tradition

Since 1983, Mattress Mack has been playing Santa by gifting furniture to local Houstonians in need who live in the area around his store.

He gets true joy in surprising these families with the “gift of comfort” and has done so for 500 families and counting.

Relief in the Wake of Disaster

Hurricane Harvey, a devastating Category 4 hurricane, hit Houston in August of 2017, causing devastating flooding to the city and it’s residents.

Mattress Mack woke up to 3 feet of water in his own house before heading to the Gallery Furniture store.

Seeing his city in turmoil, Mattress Mack quickly decided to open his stores to shelter those in need. Allowing them to safely sleep on his store’s brand new furniture and beds.

Mattress Mack Hurricane Shelter Twitter

He even offered the use of his own moving trucks to rescue people from flooded areas, reportedly rescuing nearly 200 people.

For Thanksgiving the same year, Gallery Furniture hosted and fed 5,000 people affected by the hurricane. 500 volunteers helped with the event, some coming from as far as California and Michigan to help with the cause.

In 2019, he opened his stores again to his city’s people when Tropical Storm Imelda hit Houston in another major flooding event.

Mattress Mack loves his city and gladly opened his stores to help out, but this wasn’t the first time.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, many New Orleans residents fled to Houston. Mattress Mack opened his doors to 200 refugees. These refugees weren’t Houston residents nor were they likely to buy furniture as they would return to New Orleans. This just goes to show that this was no publicity stunt. Mattress Mack just has a big heart (Lesson 20 - Good Stories. Media is About Storytelling)!

Children are the Future

Children became a central part of Mattress Mack’s charitable support. At the time it was reported, he would conduct 150 anti-drug speeches at neighboring schools.

He has also been known to work with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo where many Gallery Furniture employees also volunteer.

At the rodeo livestock auction, Mack has been known to have placed some record bids for the champion steer, paying $300,000 in 1994 and $600,000 in a combined bid with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. A portion of the proceeds go to funding scholarships (Lesson 21 - Think Long Term. Children Grow Up to Become Customers).

Investing in Healthcare & Beyond

Mattress Mack has invested in several healthcare initiatives, particularly, in areas that have affected him or his family personally. He’s donated to the Texas Heart Institute, Baylor College of Medicine and Harvard Medical School as well as others:

INVESTING IN HEALTHCARE & TECHNOLOGY

BiVACOR artificial heart

Mattress Mack befriended Billy Cohn, M.D. after he asked for Gallery Furniture to donate some recliners for his patients at Ben Taub Hospital. Later, Doctor Cohn was taking care of Mattress Mack’s brother, who was suffering with heart issues.

Cohn was working on a next generation artificial heart with Daniel Timms, PH.D, and Mack invested $2.1 million to bring it to market.

St. Luke’s Mobile Stroke Unit

Mattress Mack has suffered several strokes. His Doctor, Dr. Grotta was saw a mobile stroke unit in Germany, and wanted to bring the concept to Houston. 

Mattress Mack generously donated to this cause to bring the first mobile stroke unit to his beloved city of Houston.

Peace of Mind Foundation

Mattress Mack’s daughter, Liz McIngvale, suffered from a severe and debilitating case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). 

She would eventually seek treatment at the Menninger Clinic where she overcame the disorder. Later she became a doctor and Founder of the Peace of Mind Foundation which Mattress Mack helped fund. 

Sports, Advertising, & Local Attractions

Sports have always been an interest to Mattress Mack. He has worked to support local sports and to advertise at local sporting events. You'll see Gallery Furniture's advertisement on the field at the Astro's ball games of course, but Mattress Mack has worked to bring other sports to Houston as well.

He bought the Westside Tennis Club and even brought the Master's Cup to Houston for two years before it was moved to Shanghai.

Mattress Mack Meets Bush at Masters

Photo Courtesy of Gallery Furniture

He once campaigned to bring the Olympics to Houston. He's constantly promoting Gallery Furniture around the Houston Astros and Texans, and even owned some thoroughbred horses at one time. 

Early to Bed, Early to Rise, Work Like Hell & Advertise


Mattress Mack is a promoter by nature, and he continually comes up with new promotions, ideas, and gambits to surprise and delight his customers.

In the 90’s, Mattress Mack would spend more than $100k to put up “The World’s Tallest Christmas Tree” in the Gallery Furniture Parking lot to attract attention and the awe of potential customers.

He wrestled “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, shaved his head for the Houston Rockets, and countless more crazy ideas to publicize and promote Gallery Furniture.

Here are a few more interesting things I learned from Mattress Mack:

Early to Bed Early to Rise

Jim believed in delighting his customers. He knew his customers hated waiting for weeks to get their new furniture, especially after spending a large amount to get it. 

Gallery Furniture invested in same day delivery. Other furniture stores thought this was impossible and even made fun of him, knowing he would fail. McIngvale spent many nights working into the early morning ensuring the furniture was delivered the same day, no matter what. 

To this day, Gallery Furniture still lives by this promise and basks in delight when the furniture truck beats the customer home.

He got the idea from watching Southwest Airlines turnaround their planes to quickly meet tight schedules. (Lesson 22 - Delight Your Customers. Straight from Mattress Mack).

Mattress Mack Jim McIngvale Mackism

"

Promises made. Promises kept.


Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale Mackism

Child Care Areas

Mattress Mack would often see parents lugging a kicking and screaming child around the store. The parents were frustrated, and the kids were bored to tears. 

Mattress Mack, upon the advice of his wife Linda, built a full play area with attendants so the parents could shop without stress. The children were in a wonderland.

But “Mack” didn’t just see this as a quick win. He realized that these children would build fond memories of Gallery Furniture, and would be more likely to buy furniture from him in 20 years from now when they were adults!

The Disney World of Furniture Stores

Besides the child care area, Gallery Furniture is known to have other rarities around the store to make shopping a bit more entertaining:

  • A Restaurant
  • Shaquille O’Neal’s Size 18 Shoes
  • Elvis’s Car
  • Beautiful Parrots
  • Princess Diana’s Jewelry

Gallery Furniture had such a large store, they’ve even offered golf cart/scooters so older customers didn’t have to walk so far.

Mack Vacation Safaris

Mattress Mack is a self-described workaholic. He didn’t take many vacations, and when he did, he made sure to stop at furniture stores in other cities. He would walk around and take notes on everything, looking for one thing he could implement in his business.

Sidekick & Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris and Mattress Mack met in Houston. Norris was involved in an anti-drug campaign for children which was also a cause Mack supported.

Later, when Chuck Norris was having trouble funding Sidekicks, his first children’s movie, Mattress Mack invested $16 million to make the movie (Lesson 23 - Luck is Made. Lucky People Look for Opportunity).

Gallery Furniture Today

Today, it is reported that Gallery Furniture’s annual revenues are in the range of $150 to $200 million from it’s three stores.

The brand expanded to two additional stores, one in the Galleria (central part of Houston) and one of Grand Parkway (West toward the spreading suburban developments).

Gallery Furniture is known as the largest independent furniture retailer in Texas and is also reported to have the highest sales per square foot than any other store in the industry.

Mattress Mack is still pitching and helping his community.

Business Lessons from Mattress Mack

Houston’s Lovable Furniture Mogul 


Mattress Mack has had an incredible journey. He built a successful business, went bankrupt, and built an even more successful business based on the lessons he learned in failure.

He wouldn't make the same mistake twice. In fact, I believe Gallery Furniture's success was a direct result of his early struggles.

His new strategy was understanding the customer and aiming to delight them at all costs. 

Read on to discover 21 (plus a bonus) lessons that I've learned from Mattress Mack's story!

Mattress Mack Always Think Big Signed

Lesson 1 - Take Action. All Good Things Need to Start from Somewhere

When Jim McIngvale was asked what his plans were for after college, he essentially just blurted out, “Open a health club.” 

McIngvale says that this wasn’t a plan or something he had even really thought about before, but when he said it, he knew he had to take action. 

Mattress Mack Jim McIngvale Mackism

"

If not me, who?

If not now, when?

If not together, how?


Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale Mackism

Key Takeaway:

While it is important to build a vision of what you want to do or accomplish, without action your dreams will never be realized. Take action now.

Click to Tweet

Lesson 2 - Get a Second Opinion, Seek out Mentors

McIngvale credits Dr. W Edwards Deming’s TQM system for Gallery Furniture’s success. He considered Dr. Edwards a mentor before they met personally. He attended dozens of Deming’s seminars.

But before all of that, Jim’s first mentor was his father. He went to his father for advice about opening a health club. He went to him again about opening a second location.

 Mr. McIngvale didn’t think he was ready. He thought Jim should perfect the first location. Jim wanted to move fast and didn’t take the advice.

The outcome at this point doesn’t matter. He got a second point of view, weighed his options, and decided he’d move forward.

Key Takeaway:

It is good to surround yourself with smart people. Especially people who aren't afraid to counter your opinion.

Click to Tweet

If you’re a risk taker, find someone who is more risk averse that can balance out your crazy ideas with caution.

If you’re risk averse, find an opportunist to help you take advantage of opportunities faster.

Lesson 3 - Make Things Happen. Once in a Lifetime Opportunities Only Come Once in a Lifetime

Muhammad Ali is in town for to promote an exhibition match. Jim goes to the event to represent his health club.

Not many details are available. Perhaps he had advertised his business, perhaps he just wanted to go there to network. I’m really not sure.

But. The key is this.

At some point, Muhammad Ali asked for a volunteer. Jim raised his hand.

Forget the promotion aspect of this for a second. Who can say they stepped into a ring to box the greatest boxer of his time?

This is a lifelong memory. This is a story that only you can tell.

Key Takeaway:

Volunteer. Get out of your comfort zone. You never know where some of these opportunities will lead.

Click to Tweet
Mattress Mack Jim McIngvale Mackism

"

If it is to be, it is up to me!


Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale Mackism

Lesson 4 - Pay Attention to Your Customers

Everyone wants to join the shiny new health club. Initial success at each location was quick.

The problem was that memberships often only lasted 3-4 months. The key is to always be bringing in new members. The health club business requires upkeep, revamping, and updated equipment to keep the clientele happy. 

Upon reflection, Jim says he wasn’t paying attention to his customers.

This may be the single most important lesson in this case study.

Jim McIngvale Gallery Furniture

Photo Courtesy of Gallery Furniture

This lesson learned in failure, has been his driving mantra at Gallery Furniture, and is one of the largest driver’s of Jim McIngvale’s success.

  • Pay Attention to the Customer
  • Delight the Customer
  • Always be Improving the Customer Experience

Key Takeaway:

Your customers will readily tell you what they want. It is your job to listen, decipher the noise, and implement the biggest impact ideas.

Click to Tweet

Lesson 5 - Always be Listening. Inspiration Can Come From Anywhere

While Jim McIngvale did go to a Catholic school, he didn’t make a habit of watching sermons in his younger years. Still, on this morning, he stopped flipping the tv channels for some reason on Oral Roberts.

The sermon spoke directly to young Jim, got him out of his funk, and got him back to his usual jovial self.

Key Takeaway:

That’s the thing with inspiration. It can come from anywhere. Always be on the lookout, because you never know when it is going to hit you!

Click to Tweet

Lesson 6 - Learn the Business Before Jumping In. Take Your Career for a Test Drive  

Mcingvale credits his health club business failure to not paying enough attention to his customers. I think it was also because he didn’t understand the small nuances of the business.

This time, he knew he wanted to start a furniture business. So, he went to work for another furniture business. Eventually becoming the #1 salesperson for his new employer.

He was able to get a deep understanding of his customer, what they like, what they don’t like, and how he would do things differently once he had his own store.

Learn the Business

Key Takeaway:

If you’re starting a business, work for someone else in that industry first. Volunteer on weekends. Research. Get a deep understanding of your customer to increase your chances of success.

Click to Tweet

Lesson 7 - Loyalty, Loyalty, Loyalty

Loyalty can be a hard trait to find in the business world. For the people who do have it, they reap tremendous rewards.

Jim would not compete with his employer. He moved 3 hours away to Houston to start his business. 

Mattress Mack Jim McIngvale Mackism

"

Every day I come in contact with so many great people. Occasionally, a bad person crosses my path, and I use my experience and gut reaction to move away quickly.


Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale Mack Speak, Always Think Big

Guess who his biggest supporter is now? His former boss! His original mentor. Furniture business question? Advice is a phone call away. Loyalty can go a long way.

Loyalty and honesty in business can build up significant relationship capital in the long run. In a cash flow crunch? Ask your suppliers to delay your payments. If you’ve been loyal and they believe in you, they’ll probably say yes.

Key Takeaway:

Short term gains can be made with shady deals and cut-throat business practices, but in the long run loyalty and honesty win out.

Click to Tweet

Lesson 8 - Burn the Ships | Sink or Swim Your Way to Success

Captain Hernan Cortes, the Spanish conquistador, landed in Veracruz in 1519. He promptly turned to his men, and told them to burn the ships. With no option of retreat, they had to fight.

By moving to Houston, Jim McIngvale burned his ships. He left the support of his parents and friends back in Dallas.

He had to make this work. No matter how difficult things would become (late night furniture runs, sleeping in the store, etc.), there was no turning back. Jim McIngvale would make this happen through sheer determination and no other choice.

Not everyone is in the position to burn the ships. I understand that. You can hedge your bets and play it safe. And, that might be smarter in all honesty.

But if you burn the ships, you may be surprised at how resourceful you become!

Key Takeaway:

Burn the ships. Sink or swim your way to success. You'll be surprised at just how resourceful you can become!

Click to Tweet
Mattress Mack Jim McIngvale Mackism

"

The American West was not settled by men and women who took a course on how to be a pioneer.


Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale Mackism

Lesson 9 - Find the Side Door. Don't Let Rejection Stop You

Jim was banking on a $100,000 investment from a local angel investor, but ultimately was denied at the last minute. 

He didn't give up on his dream. He couldn't. Remember, he burned the ships!

He had to press on no matter what. Dejected, he formulated a plan. He'd sell the floor inventory, and then drive to the warehouse overnight to have inventory the next day. 

It was a painstaking process, but actually this turned out to be a competitive advantage overtime.

Key Takeaway:

The biggest difference between winners and losers is what they do after facing adversity. The loser feels dejected and gives up. The winner, blocked at the front entrance, pushes forward until they find the side door.

Click to Tweet

Lesson 10 - Big Things Have Small Beginnings | Think Big, Start Small

The McIngvales started in an old home builder’s lot so his original showrooms were multiple small model homes. They’d then stage furniture on the lot, often scrambling to bring the furniture back inside when a thunderstorm came their way.

They started small with a place along a busy highway while putting ads in newspapers, on electric poles, and handing out flyers.

Mattress Mack Goals

It was small beginnings. They reinvested everything back into the business - namely more inventory. They would make an after-hours drive to the Dallas distributor’s warehouse to pick up more furniture for the next day. They started small, with a big dream!

Today, we have other ways to test the market. You can set up a website, an e-commerce store, or build a simple MVP. You can test online with little risk.

You can start small, too, while you build the road to your big dream.

Key Takeaway:

Big things have small beginnings. Think big. Start Small.

Click to Tweet

Lesson 11 - Always Be Testing. Budget for Experimental Marketing

With the market turning for the worst, Jim McIngvale had to do something different. He was advertising in the same places the other furniture stores advertised.

Old Gallery Furniture Ad

Photo Courtesy of Gallery Furniture

It wasn’t enough to do the same thing but better. He needed to find a whole new channel.

He bet it all on television ads. Little did he know that this move would take him from struggling furniture store to local celebrity.

Common advice is to “Go where the fish are.” 

Most businesses advertise the same way as their competition. Everyone is putting their line in the exact same spot, no one catches any fish, and your lines get tangled.

Key Takeaway:

Use a portion of your budget to experiment. Find new fishing holes. Advertise in places or in ways that your competitors have ignored or are too boring to try.

Click to Tweet

Lesson 12 - The Trademark Technique | Name Your Thing for Immediate Recall

Marketer’s have used this technique for ages. I first heard the technique named by Brian Dean of Backlinko.

What is the Trademark Technique? 

It is when you name a tactic so that in the future you will be credited as the originator.

But this same technique can be used for catchphrases, jingles, or anything else you can think of as long as you use it consistently. 

If done right, customers and others in your industry will immediately recall you when they hear the word, phrase, etc.

For Jim McIngvale it was “Save You Money!”. 

I can still accurately recall a local New Orleans furniture store’s address from their Jingle - 1825 Tulane.

Key Takeaway:

Name the "thing" you are working on - an idea, a technique, a process. Develop your own “Trademark Technique” for your own brand!

Click to Tweet

Lesson 13 - Double Down on What is Working for Big Results

When McIngvale saw his initial success with television ads, he doubled down. Investing more money in ads.

According to the man himself, his commercials ran every 7 minutes, every hour, every day.

He became known for his silly, fast talking, not so well scripted commercials. 

He was real, and people related. 

Paul Boesch Jim McIngvale Wrestling Promo

Photo Courtesy of Gallery Furniture

Through his commercials, his little store became known all over town.

Key Takeaway:

This lesson is simple. Take advantage of what is working. Double down to see big results.

Click to Tweet

Lesson 14 - Be Everywhere. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Every 7 minutes, every hour, every day. His commercials were running constantly.

In my college marketing class, I learned the Rule of 7 - your customer needs to be exposed to your message an average of 7 times before they will make a purchase. 

Jim sure was doing that!

Mattress Mack Jim McIngvale Mackism

"

Keeping the Gallery Furniture Brand name in the public's thoughts takes a lot of advertising and promotion. This my contribution to Gallery. Being heard and seen is how the Gallery name became so recognized.


Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale Mack Speak, Always Think Big

Today, there are so many options, especially on web based businesses. With a little marketing sophistication, you can set up retargeting ads based on a product level when a visitor sees a particular product on your site. 

You can still use local television spots, radio, Google My Business, or other local options.

Online, you can use social channels or an ad network to be seen literally everywhere.

Key Takeaway:

Start with one channel. Perfect it. Then move to the next. Continue in this fashion until you are literally everywhere.

Click to Tweet

Lesson 15 - Be “That” Guy. Be Known for Something

Mattress Mack! The name stuck because he had a silly idea to cut holes in and wear a mattress.

I understand he only did this for a short period of time, but the name has stuck until this day. He will be forever known as Mattress Mack.

I think Jim likes his nickname. But what if he didn’t like being called Mattress Mack? Well, I guarantee that being known as Mattress Mack is much better than not being known at all.

What can you be known for?. Maybe it is:

  • An outfit or costume
  • A crazy guarantee
  • A slogan
  • Your own event

Key Takeaway:

Be “That” guy. Be known for something. It's funny that the most annoying commercials are the one you remember!

Click to Tweet

Lesson 16 - Always be Learning. Borrow Lessons from Other Industries

Mattress Mack is only “Mattress Mack” because he heard of a struggling tire salesman on the other side of Texas who started wearing a tire everywhere he went. 

Legend has it, the tire idea saved the struggling tire store owner’s business as he became known as the city’s tire man.

Key Takeaway:

Good ideas can be found anywhere. Take something that is working well in another industry and bring it to yours. You may strike gold!

Click to Tweet

Lesson 17 - Make Calculated Bets. No Promotion is Worth Going Out of Business

In 2014, Mattress Mack’s promos cost him $11 million in returns. This seems like a really bad deal for Gallery Furniture.

On paper, it is probably a different story.

  • Furniture has really high markups. So while he refunded 100% of the money, his true cost was much lower.
  • You had to buy at least $6,000 of furniture to qualify. This was an incentive for add-on sales. People were buying more furniture than they would regularly buy.
  • The promotion got a ton of news coverage, bringing in customers 100’s of miles from Houston. The bump in sales for purchases under $6,000 increased as well.
  • Gallery Furniture made money on this promo. To be clear, I don't know this for sure, but the fact that they continue running these promos means it is working and profitable.
Calculate Calculator

Key Takeaway:

Be willing to take a calculated risk. If you can break even or limit your losses to an acceptable level on a new marketing initiative, go ahead and test it. It could be your homerun.

Click to Tweet

Lesson 18 - Hedge Your Bets. Maximize Returns, but Limit Risks

In 2017 & 2019, the number of customers participating in the promotions were growing. The losses could be pretty big, unacceptable maybe.

How could Mattress Mack still utilize this popular promotion without going into the red?

Hedge his bets, of course!

Ole’ Mack took out an insurance policy, but even that wasn’t enough to cover his losses.

Then he had an idea. Sports betting. He could bet on the games himself to offset his losses!

Mattress Mack Will Save You Money

Photo Courtesy of Gallery Furniture

Key Takeaway:

Many of today’s top investors are known for making big bets, but what they really do is choose investments that combine the highest return with the smallest risk. Always work to limit your risk / exposure.

Click to Tweet

Lesson 19 - Accidental Marketing. ROI on Doing Good

Delighting the customer has always been Mattress Mack’s number one priority. He would spend big bucks to ensure his customers were happy.

As he got older and wiser, charitable giving became more appealing. It may affect some of his customers, or it may not. The good he could do for his fellow Houstonians was becoming more appealing. With his accumulating wealth, he was also able to make a larger impact.

Mattress Mack started focusing on charitable projects that were near and dear to his heart, not just projects that were for his own customers.

A peculiar thing happened. A notable increase in business was starting to be attributed to his charitable giving. 

People aligned with the cause would start to purchase from Gallery Furniture. 

Local newspapers would publicize the good he was doing bringing in even more customers.

Mattress Mack called this accidental marketing. 

Through his generosity, he was forging connections with people aligned with these charities, and he didn’t even know it!

ROI Accidental Marketing

Today, this aligns with the newish  idea of Conscious Capitalism and how enterprises can benefit humanity, their customers, and make a profit.

Key Takeaway:

Businesses can and should strive to make an impact, not just a profit. Giving back to your community (your customers) will strengthen relationships between you and your customer, enticing them to come back and buy again and again.

Click to Tweet

Lesson 20 - Good Stories. Media is About Storytelling

Devastated by flooding, many Houston residents had nowhere to go. Seeing this, Mack stepped into action, immediately opening his doors and sending his trucks out to rescue people stranded in flood waters.

I sincerely believe this was not a publicity stunt. At the same time, it was a major inflection point on Mattress Mack’s journey from local to national celebrity.

Google Trends shows two major media events for “Mattress Mack.” 

Google Trends Mattress Mack
  • Opening his stores for flood victims
  • His big Astros bet

For a man who is regularly featured in local news, these two events hit the national news circuit, brought in links, mentions, and new customers from all around the country.

National news typically picks up trending stories from local news. I’d love to know if this story went viral organically or if behind the scenes, Gallery Furniture’s marketing team spread the story. 

Key Takeaway:

Develop good stories. Good storytelling is simply the most powerful marketing technique you’ll ever learn.

Click to Tweet

Lesson 21 - Think Long Term. Children Grow Up to Become Customers

Mack’s work with children has led to more accidental marketing.

At first, his 150 anti-drug speeches per year started to lead to teachers coming into Gallery Furniture.

Over time, these same children grew up, went to college, got jobs, bought houses, and of course, needed furniture. Many of them headed to Gallery Furniture to see the man that influenced them earlier on in life.

The same can be said about his child care facility inside the store. The now adult children remember visiting the store with their parents and have a good, nostalgic feeling towards the store.

This is almost a wholesome and PG version of big tobacco trying to hook kids at an early age. 

The problem with many publicly traded companies is that they have to focus on next quarter's results to please shareholders. As a small business, you can make better decisions by playing the long game.

Key Takeaway:

Think strategically over the long-term. Have a 5-year plan and a 10-year plan. Too many businesses are focused on the short-term.

Click to Tweet

Lesson 22 - Delight Your Customers. Straight From Mattress Mack

Gallery Furniture is reported to generate ~$150 million per year in revenues. 

I have to come back to this point. Mattress Mack built his empire on this one guiding principle. Everything they do is to delight the customer. His tenets:

  • Quality Furniture
  • A Good Price
  • Same Day Delivery

As his furniture operation grew, decisions were made with one thing in mind. Do the right thing and delight the customer. He did this over and over until he built an unmatched customer experience.

Yes, he had to do this profitably. Yes, there were probably some questionable decisions made at times. Still, by focusing on this one goal over time, continually improving, and helping customers actually enjoy their experience, he built one of the highest sales per square foot stores in the nation.

What steps did he take?

  • He took his salespeople off commission. Why? Because it drove division between the team and created a negative experience for the customer.
  • Fighting cash flow issues (holding more inventory) and a logistical nightmare, he promised same day delivery and lived up to it.
  • He limited expansion so that he could ensure a quality experience

Point 3 - Expanding to others cities and states could have made Mattress Mack a billionaire. He didn’t need that. He knew what he wanted above else and never took his eye off the ball.

Key Takeaway:

If you can only do one thing, always strive to delight your customer. Make it easier to do business with you!

Click to Tweet

Lesson 23 - Luck is Made | Lucky People Look for Opportunity

Chuck Norris was a huge anti-drug advocate. Mattress Mack ran in the same circles in his local Houston giving speeches to kids in local schools.

They met in Houston because of this shared interest.

Chuck Norris & Mattress Mack

Photo Courtesy of Gallery Furniture

If Mattress Mack never started giving speeches, he would have never met Chuck Norris. If he had never met Chuck Norris, he would have never heard that Chuck was having issues funding a children’s movie. If he’d never heard of the funding issue, Mack would have never had an IMBD credit.

This was all purely by chance, but Mattress Mack created his luck by his actions.

Mattress Mack Jim McIngvale Mackism

"

The harder I work, the luckier I get!


Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale Mackism

The movie broke even domestically, but made good profits internationally. It turned out to be a good investment!

Key Takeaway:

Lucky people see the world differently. Look for the good. Make your own luck. Go out and do things, and seize the opportunity when it comes your way.

Click to Tweet

Conclusion

There you have it! Jim McIngvale is a great example of how you can utilize your own brand to grow your business.

I hope you enjoyed these lessons, and learned something along the way.

Did I miss anything?

If so, please let me know in the comments!

Follow

About the Author

I help business owners, entrepreneurs, experts, and coaches spread their message to gain more business and influence through media coverage.

>