Mattress Mack: Hometown Hero

As a great name in education, Sam Houston State University has a long tradition of producing students prepared to lead in the workforce. For many, attending a university is only the first step in making their dream of business ownership a reality. 

The SHSU Entrepreneurship Program provided a unique opportunity for students and faculty to hear from an esteemed entrepreneur whose commitment to his community has made him a “hometown hero.”

At President Dana Hoyt’s invitation, Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, a man who epitomizes the role of a successful businessman, spoke at a special presentation and was named the university’s first Entrepreneur-In-Residence.

“We can think of no greater example for our students, who want to be leaders in business, than Jim McIngvale.  In particular, we emphasize to our students that successful entrepreneurs view serving and giving back to their community as a major mission. He has ‘walked the walk’ in that regard, with countless efforts to give back to the Houston community and beyond.” - Dana G. Hoyt

The SHSU Entrepreneurship Program began in 2003 and offered its first major in entrepreneurship in 2012. Today, more than 90 students are entrepreneurship majors, with another 50 participating in the minor program, which is now open to any student in each of the seven colleges at SHSU.

The program promotes entrepreneurship, free enterprise and a capitalist market economy, while providing opportunities for students and faculty to hear inspiring stories of business success. Chip Matthews, associate professor in the College of Business Administration, explained that with every degree plan, students can benefit from having an entrepreneurial influence in their career. 

Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale

“The idea is no matter your major, you can find a need,” Matthews said. “If you are a dance, theatre or photography major, and want to start your own studio, or if you are a criminal justice major and want to start a detective agency, this program is for you. Anyone who has found a need, found a way to meet that need and wants to build up something that delivers a solution is an entrepreneur.” 

Although the Entrepreneurship-In-Residence is a new endeavor for SHSU, that did not stop the university from securing one of the best examples of an entrepreneurial leader in the Houston area and beyond. 

“We want to create special opportunities for students and faculty to interact with people who have had great success as entrepreneurs,” Hoyt said. “It is an honor to have Mr. McIngvale as our first Entrepreneur-In-Residence.”

McIngvale and his wife Linda started Gallery Furniture in 1981 and from the beginning, his motto has been “early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.” With his never-quit attitude and flashy television advertising, McIngvale quickly became a household name in the Houston area by guaranteeing to “save you money today,” at the end of each commercial. 

At one point in 1987, a Houston Post poll reported Gallery Furniture as having both the best and worst television ads in Houston. In true form, McIngvale immediately owned it and used it to his full advantage by mentioning it in his next commercial campaign.

“The reason they are the worst is because of the talent, which is me. But the reason they are the best is Gallery Furniture really will save you money,” said McIngvale, as he nearly jumped out of the television screen with enthusiasm.

It is in those witty and humanizing moments that McIngvale has always connected with his customers. That humor was also a part of his compelling presentation to SHSU.

McIngvale spoke in the Gaertner Performing Arts Center about his life story, encouraging others interested in becoming business owners. 

McIngvale also sat down for a Q&A with our Heritage Magazine staff:

Heritage: Becoming the leader of a business, an entrepreneur, takes a lot of perseverance. What would you say to those who are pursuing entrepreneurship themselves?

JM: Keep your overhead low and work your tail off! If working 16 hours a day doesn’t interest you, do not even try to start your own business!

Heritage: You’ve been named a “Houston Hometown Hero” for your hurricane relief efforts. You’ve shut down your business in times of need for your community and turned those very mattresses and living room sets you are selling in to shelter for those in need. Explain your decision to do so, despite what it meant for the bottom line.

JM: We’ve always put people before profits, always have and always will. I learned generosity and compassion from my parents and am honored to continue their legacy. 

Heritage: Early in your career, and even today, it seems you have always had a heavy focus on advertising. Why was that so important to you, even early on when maybe the budget didn’t really have room for it?

JM: Peter Drucker said the purpose of any business is to create a customer. Advertisement helps to create customers. Advertisement is not a cost; it is an investment.

Heritage: Perhaps the advertising that has gained the most attention have been your bets with customers on sporting events. There was the Astros, and their pursuit of world series championships, and before that, ads choosing sides in the super bowl. Explain why you take those risks.

JM: These are not bets, they are promotions. It is not a risk, in that the promotions generate 10 times the advertising and marketing value more than the money has ever been paid out. The idea is to be topical and relevant to the customers.

Heritage: “The measure of a Life is its Service” is SHSU’s motto. As a leader of the community who is constantly giving back, what do you think of that as a phrase to live by?

JM: Couldn’t agree more! “The essence of living is giving”—John Paul II. There ain’t no Brinks trunk at the back of the funeral.

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