By Nick Vafiadis
Some saw Hurricane Harvey as Houston’s darkest moment, but it turned out to be its finest hour, thanks to citizens like Jim McIngvale, a local entrepreneur turned philanthropist, who goes by Mattress Mack. Mack has been a leader in the city’s fight to recover, most notably by donating eighty thousand dollars from his own pocket as well as a fortune in free furniture for the displaced. In addition, he created the “Rebuild-TX Harvey relief effort,” arguably the most proactive of the post-Harvey clean-up crews.
For those who grew up in Houston, Mack is an urban legend. He is as well known for his distinctive fast pitch commercial delivery as he is for his larger than life publicity stunts with exotic animals. For better or worse this is certainly not the first time Mack has been in the news. Nor is it the first time he has been able to identify with those in need.
Starting with only five thousand dollars, Mack grew Gallery Furniture into America’s largest furniture empire, currently grossing an estimated two to four hundred million dollars per year. His distinctive speaking style, reminiscent of a horse track commentator, is what made the original Gallery furniture commercials famous on local Houston television back in 1983. Having a relatively small amount of air time, Mac decided to condense his entire sales pitch down to a mere fifteen or so seconds. “I was doing an ad, and I was frustrated,” Mack said in regards to filming the commercial. “I couldn’t come up with a punch line. Finally, I pulled some money out of my pocket and yelled, ‘Gallery Furniture saves you money!’” Afterwards, the Gallery brand enjoyed a period of substantial growth, and Mack continued to distinguish himself through the 1980s with his trademark advertisements as well as his famous displays of circus animals at the store.
However, his affinity for over-the-top publicity did not always serve him for the better. In 1986, Mack found himself at the center of a media firestorm around the mauling of an eight-year-old girl by a lion at a flea market the entrepreneur ran. Mack held himself responsible for the events at his property, and ended up covering the girl’s medical expenses. It would take a long time for the city of Houston to get over this event, and it would take even longer for the Gallery name to reclaim its former esteem. But Mack was determined to not let the tragic event define the franchise, and he persisted in delivering quality furniture at unbeatable prices.
By 2009, Gallery Furniture had bounced back even stronger than before the incident, blossoming into a furniture empire with several new branch locations and an entire new market in premium furnishing. However, 2009 was also the year Gallery Furniture’s warehouse was burnt to the ground by a disgruntled ex-employee. Once again Mattress Mack found himself in an all too familiar position of humility. Those familiar with Mack’s hallmark tenacity were not surprised when eight years later Gallery reached its peak sales.
In the summer of 2017 a new trial loomed on the horizon in the form of a hurricane. This time, however, Mack was ready to give back to the city he happily claims “Gave me everything.” In addition to the sizeable donations and organization of relief efforts, Mack closed down four of his locations and re-opened them as shelters for hurricane victims (equipped with fresh mattresses of course). Mack also played a big part in helping his city return to feelings of normalcy after the chaos by providing free candy to young trick or treaters during Halloween and flying forty lucky Houstonians to watch the Astros in the World Series in Los Angeles.
Mack’s heroism even caught the attention of President Trump who commended Mack for his efforts to rebuild Houston. As Mack’s story goes on to surprise people all over the world, long time Houstonians are nearly unfazed — not because Mack’s actions were anything less than extraordinary, but because his deeds were simply what anyone who knows Mack has come to expect from him. Mack articulated this attitude of brotherly love probably better than anyone, saying simply, “If it is to be… it is up to me/we.” He’s shown everyone that being a good Houstonian, or just a good human in general, means taking it upon oneself to take care of those in need. As Houston regains its old stride, Mack’s example will be a hard one to chase after. But at least we’ve already been pulled back onto our feet