Mattress Mack is a force to be reckoned with, and not even a worldwide pandemic will keep him down.
With strong Christian principles guiding his decisions and actions, Jim McIngvale, aka Mattress Mack, believes in God, country, family, and hard work. Gallery Furniture, where he can be found most days, was begun on a shoestring budget in roadside stands over 30 years ago, and in the past three decades, McIngvale has never ceased giving back to the community that has supported him.
His latest endeavor combines his entrepreneurial and philanthropic spirits. He has opened a vocational school for high school students who don’t plan to college, another school for 16- to 26-year-olds who never finished high school, and a pre-school for the children of the students attending both programs, all free of charge.
“Not every kid needs to go to college, but what we do need are electricians, auto mechanics, hair stylists and barbers, welders, and other trades we rely on to live our lives,” said McIngvale.
He must have a crystal ball – or a whole lot of common sense – because as soon as he opened the programs, they had 2,500 applicants to the trade school, 300 to the high school, and 40 to the daycare. Members of the community and businesses who need people certified in specific trades all volunteered to teach the students everything they need to know.
Where is the school located? Right there at Gallery Furniture.
“I looked around one day,” McIngvale explained. “It was the beginning of Covid and everyone was ordering everything online. That’s been happening in recent years, but Covid really kicked it in. Then, I was being told by customers that the store was too big, too overwhelming. Too much to see. The combination of those two made me re-design the floor space and opened up a big enough area to house the schools I was envisioning.
“It may sound ridiculous for a furniture guy to open a school, but as I say, don’t tell me it’s impossible until after I’ve finished doing it.”
McIngvale’s drive for this latest vision is part of a huge desire to break the welfare cycle for families who feel trapped. “People fall into the habit of being victims,” he said. “You know what the difference is between victim and victor? Two letters. That’s it.”
He points out that there were 17,000 welder openings when he opened his trade school. Car dealerships are constantly searching for good mechanics. And the needs go on and on. But he also stresses that the vocational school teaches much more than job skills. It also teaches soft skills crucial to life success.
“We cover how to handle constructive criticism so the first time an employee hears it, he doesn’t quit. We provide problem solving training, conflict resolution, even going so far as what to do if your car breaks down when you’re on the way to work. People need to learn these things if they’re going to be contributing members of society.”
McIngvale’s work ethic is legendary, so he is the perfect person to promote these skills to others. But he believes strongly that it’s about much more than just talking. He learned from his father, “Let our actions shout and our words whisper.” So he puts actions to words.
He also believes that we need church and is frustrated that the churches have been closed through the pandemic, while other businesses have opened. A devout Catholic, he prays the rosary and gets with people every day to determine their needs. But he misses being in church. “Through everything – every war, every plague, everything – the church has endured and it’s never closed its doors, until now. Why are liquor stores considered essential and remain opened, but the churches have to close? We need to stand up and fight!”
So McIngvale channels his passion, his love of work, and his love of others to enterprises like his new schools. He is doing everything he can to get people employed and to break the cycle of poverty and victimhood. At a barely advertised job fair he hosted, 300 people showed up looking for work. McIngvale understands their desire to find a job. “Work is life’s greatest therapy,” he said.
The proof is in the students, some who drive hours to get to the store so they can study a trade or finish their high school education. McIngvale saw the need, and he met it. No pandemic will keep him from God, country, family, and hard work.