These days, Houston’s Jim McIngvale, better known as Mattress Mack, has gotten very good at framing “social distancing selfies.” At his Gallery Furniture’s flagship store on North Freeway, McIngvale poses six to eight feet away from admirers, many of whom weren’t born when he began starring in his own television commercials in the early eighties and made “Gallery Furniture saves you money!” a beloved Houston catchphrase.
“We’re having fun with the selfies. And I love interacting with customers,” McIngvale says. “That’s my life. Right now, we just have to do it safely.”
Since the pandemic surfaced, McIngvale has been at his stores providing free grab-and-go meals for people who need them and coordinating, via a partnership with Kroger, boxed food deliveries to homebound seniors. And on two occasions he’s backed up North Freeway traffic with giveaways of protective masks. One of his mottos—and he’s got more than a few—is “We believe in ‘Capitalism with a Cause,'” and in Houston his philanthropy is legendary: for 34 years he’s been surprising Houstonians by filling their houses with furniture as a Christmas tradition. He also helped fund America’s first mobile stroke unit in partnership with Memorial Hermann hospital. But it was his action in the aftermath of Harvey that earned him statewide and national attention. Directly after the storm, he opened his showrooms to evacuees and took to Facebook to encourage anyone with a commercial driver’s license to use his delivery trucks as rescue vehicles.
“The essence of life is giving. Anybody can take. But we should be givers,” says McIngvale, who’s even found ways to blend philanthropy with his penchant for gambling. He has twice promised to completely refund customers who spent more than $3,000 on mattresses if the Astros won the World Series, and in 2017, he ended up refunding $10 million to customers as a result.
Even so, McIngvale is clear that COVID-19 is not something he’s willing to gamble on. He wears a mask and gloves at work and insists that his staff follow protocols recommended by the Texas Department of State Health Services and the CDC. And yet McIngvale—who was appointed last month by Governor Greg Abbott to the Strike Force to Open Texas—told Texas Monthly in conversation Tuesday morning that he believes it’s the right time to cautiously reopen Texas for business, especially for the survival of small businesses. On our show, McIngvale offers tips for leadership in a crisis, discusses the uncertain fate of the retail sector, and explains how he believes everyday life, not just shopping, will be dramatically different in the years ahead. And yes, we also talk about the Astros.