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