Exclusive: Mattress Mack on health, career, future

November 15, 2012 9:20:56 PM PST
Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale is one of Houston's most visible businessmen with a rags to riches story like no other. But lately he has disappeared from those famous commercials promising to "save you money." And that left many wondering what's wrong?

In an exclusive ABC13 interview, we get an answer to that question and rumors that his health is failing.

It's the Mattress Mack you have not seen before, and because there is so much "less" of him, it's left many wondering is he OK?

"My health is great, you know, we have a workout here every Tuesday morning at 7am with all the warehouse guys, about 100 guys. And most of these guys are 18 to 30 years old so I gotta keep up. So that's how I lost all that weight, in trying to keep up with these kids. And it's been good for me. I feel better, so my health has always been fine," Mattress Mack said.

So why then has this 61-year-old workaholic who built one of the most lucrative furniture stores in the country disappeared from TV, replaced by his two daughters, Liz and Laura?

"Cause we want to attract a younger demographic, not my father's furniture store," Mack told us.

And if anyone knows what works, it's Mattress Mack.

Melanie Lawson: That commercial that you're so known for, all those commercials, it didn't start off like that. You decided to buy some TV time and how did you come up with the idea to be the spokesperson?"
Mattress Mack: The producer said, 'Mac you got one more take.' He was very frustrated so I did a little 25 second furniture pitch and out of sheer frustration, I actually had the day's receipts in my back pocket. I reached in my pocket, pulled the money out and said, 'Gallery Furniture will save you money!' And I stuck with that ever since.
Melanie: Were you surprised that it took off like it did?
Mack: Pretty much, yea. I was surprised at the power of television and still am.

That first commercial was back in 1983, and like they so often do, this rags to riches story involves a little luck, a lot of work and a dedicated spouse.

"I think I had about $3,100 and something dollars in my pocket," said Linda McIngvale.

For years they slept in the store. And out of desperation came another secret to success -- delivering furniture the same day a customer bought it.

"Here's the secret. We did same day delivery cause we couldn't afford for you to cancel your sale. So, no, I'm serious. I mean if you came in here and bought furniture, we would say, let me tie it on your car, you know, I became an expert tier," said Linda.

There have been plenty of rough times. In May of 2009, the store went up in flames. The man accused of doing it was a former employee.

"It was devastating, but at the same time we knew we were gonna go on," said Mack. "I mean, you know, it was just Horrific. and you know it was tough on my kids when all the people saying that I was the arsonist and this and that. And it's still tough."

And then the economy.

"We didn't make a lot (last year), the sales were down. The sales are still way down verses 2006 because the housing market bottomed out," said Mack. "How much did we sell? About $110 million."

When we asked him if that was a down year, Mack told us, "Yea, that's a bad year. We're used to doing 150."

And when we asked him how he feels about being called a workaholic, he replied, "I like it. Yea, absolutely. To me, work is life's greatest therapy."

How's this for irony -- that work ethic, those endless hours, it impacted the McIngvale's three kids; maybe just a little too much.

"Never. No, absolutely not," said daughter Liz, after we asked her if she sees herself taking over the business. "I think all of us kids have taken our own different path so I don't see any of us necessarily taking over."

"I don't know it's the right fit for them. It might be for one of them in the next few years, but right now I don't think it is," said Linda McIngvale.

Mattress Mack told us, "I still hope to get at least one of the children in the furniture business, help me out before I turn it in. Whenever that will be -- 30 years from now."

To which Linda replied, "I won't be around."

"It's been a wild ride. I don't regret any of it," said Mattress Mack. "It's been great fun every minute."

Despite the kids' decision not to take over the family business, Gallery Furniture plans to expand with stores in Katy and Sugar Land.


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