The man behind Mattress Mack: salesman, gambler… introvert?

There is more to the Houston furniture seller than bombastic ads and big wagers.

By Michael MarksApril 27, 2023 10:39 am, , ,

Jim McIngvale, better known as Mattress Mack, is a Houston institution.

McIngvale is the owner of Gallery Furniture. For the better part of 40 years, he’s promised furniture buyers in the Houston area that he can save them money – often during wacky 30-second TV ads.

He’s also a big-time gambler. Last year Mack won more than $75 million dollars by betting that the Astros would win the World Series. He also recently put big money on the Houston Cougars men’s basketball team and TCU Horned Frogs football.

For as public of a figure as Mattress Mack is, however, there’s more to him than meets the eye. Sarah Smith, senior enterprise reporter for the Houston Chronicle, spoke to the Texas Standard about a recent deep-dive she took into McIngvale’s story. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity: 

Texas Standard: What do you think the average Houstonian makes of Mattress Mack?

Sarah Smith: Well, I was the average Houstonian. I’m a transplant, so I think I first saw the commercials and I was just like, “my goodness, who is this man?” 

Well, what sort of space is the occupying culture there? If you stop someone on the street, you think they’ll know Mattress Mack?

Mattress Mack: Furniture salesman. Houston celebrity. Political figure. Biggest Astros fan ever. A huge sports gambler. I think he’s a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but very much ingrained in the city psyche.

Very interesting. So let’s talk a little bit about who this fella is. How does McIngvale spend most of his time? Is the furniture business still his top priority, given how much money he’s won in sports wagers? 

Yes, he is usually found at the counter of the flagship gallery furniture location, calling what he hopes are about 100 customers a day to make sure they’re happy with their furniture.

You’re kidding. What seems to motivate this guy?

Well, I actually asked him that, and I was surprised by the answer. He said he was motivated by a deep fear of failure, actually.

A fear of failure. There’s got to be more to that. 

Yeah. I mean, he has experienced business failure. He started a chain of health clubs in Dallas back in the mid to late seventies that all went belly up. So I think he felt a lot of pressure coming to Houston to make Gallery work. And clearly it has.

Boy, isn’t that a Texas story, you know, moving around and sort of starting over. And it sounds like that’s a big part of part of his tale. You mentioned he’s sort of cultivated a profile in the political world. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? 

Yeah, Mack has always been involved in politics to some degree. He actually considered running for council back in ’89. Nowadays, he’s pretty involved with the conservative movement. He endorsed (Alexandra del Moral) Mealer for the judge’s race and counts Ted Cruz among personal friends.

Very interesting. Tell us about his sports wagers here. I mean, for someone who seems to be motivated by success, you wouldn’t think that he’d be placing, you know, huge wagers on sports teams. I mean, that’s not exactly what you’d call a sure bet, no matter who you’re betting on. 

Definitely not a sure bet, no matter who you’re betting on. But they are pretty smart moves for him. It’s free publicity no matter what. And he’s always very smart about hedging his bets with his in-store promotions, although he would say that his wife would call him compulsive.

How so?

Oh, he just gets obsessed over things like his, like you said, the sports wagers. So he just can’t help himself. He loves a good bet.

Anything about Mattress Mack that surprised you a bit? 

I was quite startled to hear from Mack and everybody close to him that he considers himself an introvert.

An introvert?

Yes, Mattress Mack is the world’s most famous introvert.

What do you make of that? 

I think it’s just interesting how people can have their public personas and then private persona who likes to just sit in bed and read about business or Catholicism and really have as quiet time.


Yes. Mac, is a man of very strong faith.

So what motivated you to look more into Mattress Mack? What was it about his persona that made you want to dig a little deeper? 

This came out of a, I think, a whole newsroom conversation, actually. And I guess I should be good about giving credit to the upper editors on pointing it out, this guy, to dig into a little bit because he is such a big persona in Houston. But I think we were all curious about who’s the man behind the Mack.

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