Timeline: How Mattress Mack evolved from failed entrepreneur to Houston celebrity
Before he was the Houston furniture tycoon known as Mattress Mack, Jim McIngvale was a divorced, failed entrepreneur crashing with relatives in Dallas. So how did he become a millionaire TV legend whose commercials are forever chiseled in the memory of longtime Houstonians?
Here’s a look at McIngvale’s rise to Houston celebrity status, from his birth in small-town Mississippi to his move to the Bayou City more than 40 years ago when he had just a few thousand dollars to his name.
James McIngvale is born Feb. 11, 1951, to George and Angela McIngvale in Starkville, Mississippi. His family moves to Dallas where he will spend his early adulthood.
MACK TAKES THE FIELD
McIngvale attends Bishop Lynch High School where he plays football and baseball all four years, and secures a scholarship to play at the University of Texas. He later transfers to the University of North Texas but never completes his degree. Decades later, he is awarded an honorary degree from UNT.
WEATHERS PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL SETBACKS
After just three years of marriage, McIngvale’s first wife, a trailblazing Olympic diver from Houston named Cynthia Potter, files for divorce. That same year, the chain of Nautilus health clubs he’s been running — that his father bankrolled — fails.
OPENS GALLERY FURNITURE
McIngvale is fired from his job at a convenience store for having an attitude problem. He discovers his affinity for furniture sales and moves to Houston with his new wife, Linda.
With just $5,000 to his name, McIngvale opens Gallery Furniture’s first store in May 1981 at an empty, weedy abandoned model home park on the North Freeway. McIngvale and Linda sleep there sometimes to guard the furniture they did not have insurance on. Linda makes the first sale.
AIRS FIRST COMMERCIAL
McIngvale rents time in a local television studio to film the first of many wacky Gallery commercials. Gallery is facing financial hardship due to the 1982 oil glut. He is down to his last $10,000 when he gambles it all on his first “SAVE YOU MONEYYY” spot that solidifies his reputation and begins his rise to a Houston TV icon.
McIngvale later says that those first commercials helped save his business. Within five years, he adopts an aggressive marketing strategy that calls for 600 radio and television spots a week.
[embedded content] McIngvale discusses an array of his ads over the years. Courtesy Gallery Furniture/Elizabeth Conley/Staff photographer
CONSIDERS RUN FOR OFFICE
McIngvale considers putting his name in for Houston City Council with the ultimate goal of preparing himself for a bid for mayor. He scraps the idea when he learns his home is outside Houston city limits.
INVESTS IN THOROUGHBRED RACING
McIngvale becomes a minority owner of the failed Sam Houston Race Park in northwest Houston. A year later, he sues the lawyer who encouraged him to invest in the park for $1.5 million, according to court records. The case ends in a confidential settlement.
He becomes a major investor in horseracing, spending millions buying and training thoroughbreds for some of the biggest events in the country. McIngvale struggles to maintain trainers, according to reports.
MACK IS OUSTED BY BBB
The Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston and South Texas ousts McIngvale, citing a Houston Chronicle ad that suggested competitors sold shoddy furniture. McIngvale says the ads were not deceptive.
McIngvale would later say that both he and the BBB shared blame for the episode. Gallery rejoined the BBB in 2013 and held an A+ rating; currently, Gallery is not accredited.
DEBUTS ROCKETS PRACTICE CENTER
McIngvale offers to build a training center for the Houston Rockets at his Westside Tennis Club in 1996. (The Houston Rockets had previously practiced at Ball High School and Texas A&M’s Mitchell Campus in Galveston.) The Westside facility comes with designer weight rooms, locker rooms and lounges. The players and their families are invited to use the club’s restaurant, tennis courts and nursery.
HOSTS INAUGURAL GALLERY BOWL
The Astrodome hosts the first galleryfurniture.com college bowl with teams from the Big 12 Conference and Conference USA. The event puts Houston back on the NCAA football map and breathes new life into the Astrodome. McIngvale’s vision is for the bowl to be one of the best in the county. He tells the Chronicle the event is “a good marketing opportunity.” It lasts for two years before fizzling out.
BOOSTS HOUSTON’S TENNIS BONA FIDES
The International Tennis Hall of Fame presents McIngvale and Houston with the Tennis City of the Year award. McIngvale’s state-of-the-art Westside Tennis Club helps elevate Houston, becoming the home of the U.S. Men’s Championships and Masters Cup for several years.
AIDS PRESIDENTS IN RELIEF EFFORTS
Former President George H.W. Bush and McIngvale pledge to raise $100 million to aid victims of the 2004 earthquake and tsunami that caused hundreds of thousands of fatalities across south Asia. McIngvale leads the local effort the following year, starting with a $250,000 donation.
Later that year, he opens his showroom to people fleeing the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina. He chairs a local relief fund launched by former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and delivers furniture to 5,000 people who sought refuge following Katrina.
OPENS SECOND STORE
After operating for 28 years in one location, McIngvale opens his second store off Post Oak near the Galleria.
FLAGSHIP STORE GOES UP IN FLAMES
The warehouse at McIngvale’s flagship store goes up in flames, causing $20 million in damage. It takes firefighters nearly three hours to extinguish the four-alarm fire. A disgruntled employee is charged with arson and spends years in state custody and mental health units while awaiting trial. He is ultimately declared incompetent to stand trial.
UNDERGOES CARDIAC PROCEDURE
McIngvale undergoes surgery for a patent foramen ovale, or PFO, which is essentially a hole in the heart. He goes on to fund research toward the development of the first permanent artificial heart.
MAKES GALLERY’S FIRST SPORTS-RELATED WAGER
McIngvale places his first huge sports bet linked to customers at his store. He offers a full refund on up to $6,000 of furniture if the Seattle Seahawks win the Super Bowl. The Seahawks beat Denver, 43-8. The bet costs him $7 million.
BREAKS GROUND ON THIRD STORE
McIngvale breaks ground on a new 165,000-square-foot store on West Grand Parkway South in Richmond, southwest of Houston. The store opens a year later and boasts a restaurant, aquarium and atrium that houses exotic birds and a family of capuchin monkeys. (The animals will later be removed.)
TAKES STAGE FOR TRUMP
McIngvale moderates Donald Trump’s first 2016 speaking engagement in Texas, seven months before the New York Republican is elected president. In his remarks at The Woodlands High School event, McIngvale offers to send Trump a mattress. In 2023, he will make good on this promise.
OFFERS SHELTER DURING HARVEY
McIngvale keeps his stores open 24 hours and offers them as shelter for hundreds of people displaced by Hurricane Harvey. He offers food and beds on site and dispatches company trucks to assist in high-water rescues around the city.
Two years after the record-breaking hurricane, Gov. Greg Abbott signs several disaster relief acts, including two aimed at Hurricane Harvey aid, at Gallery Furniture’s flagship store.
OPENS GALLERY SCHOOLS
McIngvale announces he will open two schools and a daycare inside the Gallery Furniture flagship store. The plans call for one trade school and a charter campus for young adults ages 16 to 26 who don’t have high school diplomas. Students enrolled in the trade school or charter campus can send their children to Gallery’s daycare program.
“I want to leave a legacy for myself and my wife, and not just be a couple of people who made a lot of money,” McIngvale tells the Houston Chronicle.
JOINS ABBOTT’S COVID TASK FORCE
When public figures in Texas begin taking sides in the early days of the global coronavirus pandemic, McIngvale takes a stand for reopening shuttered businesses. Gov. Greg Abbott, who champions reopenings, names McIngvale to a special advisory position on his Strike Force to Open Texas. The council’s aim is to rally professionals and civic leaders around reopening businesses.
GALLERY TAKES IN VICTIMS OF WINTER FREEZE
McIngvale opens his main showroom to victims of the deadly winter freeze that leaves hundreds of thousands of Texans in the dark for days and without heat and potable water.
MAKES A PLUG FOR LEGALIZED BETTING
McIngvale makes a plea in the Houston Chronicle for Texas lawmakers to legalize sports wagering to “keep Texas dollars in Texas.” Two years later, he reverses his stance.
“My change of heart is that I know myself and I’ve seen the light as far as impulsiveness on me to sports gambling,” McIngvale tells the Chronicle. “Because I’ve got to drive to Louisiana, it limits those impulses by a factor of 1,000. So I’m not in favor of sports gambling in Texas.”
HIT WITH COPYRIGHT LAWSUIT
McIngvale is sued on charges he ripped off an immersive art business, The FOMO Factory in the Galleria, by using the same artist FOMO hired to create installations aimed at attracting customers to his stores. The lawsuit says that McIngvale stole ideas copyrighted by FOMO founder Rachel Youens. The alleged infringment had a “deep and overwhelming effect” on Rachel, according to allegations in the complaint. She died weeks later by suicide.
Gallery Furniture denies any wrongdoing, and has moved to have the case dismissed. The suit is ongoing.
“This was a sad end to a pretty creative girl’s life,” Rachel’s father, Robert Youens, said.
MACK BACKS MEALER
McIngvale publicly endorses Republican candidate and former Army Capt. Alexandra del Moral Mealer for Harris County Judge in her campaign to unseat Lina Hidalgo. He shares the announcement in a widely publicized ad with Mealer, where he calls her a friend and says she’ll be “tough on crime.”
Mealer loses her bid for county judge. She files a challenge to the election on Jan. 6, 2023, two years to the date of the violent insurrection by Donald Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol. The lawsuit is still pending.
MACK GOES VIRAL
McIngvale is captured on camera arguing with Phillies fans after an Astros World Series game in Philadelphia. McIngvale tells the Houston Chronicle he was defending Astros player Jose Altuve after a man called him “the biggest cheater ever.”
“My blood pressure got a little high but that’s alright, I lived through it,” he says. “I will always take up the Houston Astros.”
McIngvale collects a $75 million payout after betting $10 million on the Houston Astros to win the World Series. It marked the largest win ever through a legal sportsbook in the United States. Gallery Furniture customers who bet on the home team received double their money back on their Gallery Furniture purchase.
February 13, 2023
SUES COUNTY OVER ELECTION
McIngvale sues the Harris County Elections Administrator’s office saying it failed to turn over public records related to the November 2022 election. A week later, he launches a website called Hard to Vote to try to gather evidence of voter disenfranchisement. The case is pending. In April, Mack showed up at the Texas State Capitol to press his points with lawmakers and the media.
ANNOUNCES NEW ASTROS BET
As the season opens, McIngvale bets $1.9 million on the Houston Astros to win the 2023 World Series. If the team wins, McIngvale will make over $11 million and Houstonians who spend $5,000 on furniture at Gallery will receive a full refund for their purchases.