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5 September, 2017 Posted by John G. Self Posted in Leadership, Stories
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A Leader For All Seasons

Posted September 5th, 2017 | Author: John G. Self

When disasters strike, there will always be local heroes who step up and perform amazing acts to save lives or to provide comfort and empathy.

One Houston business leader has stepped up – again. He is a prime example, writ large, of an important leadership truth: you do not stop being a leader at the office door. True servant leaders take it home to the dinner table, to their church and into the community.

One of the many Hurricane Harvey heroes is a Houston furniture retailer who practiced that form of leadership even before he achieved success. His name: James McIngvale, the founder and CEO of Gallery Furniture of Houston. Not only is he a complete leader, but he is also one of the early retail market disrupters.

For those who have not seen the numerous video reports about this Houston icon, or if you are not familiar with the energetic furniture retailer they call “Mattress Mack”, here is the story filed by David Begnaud of CBS News as part of that network’s “More Perfect Union” series. If you did not see this report, I urge you to click this YouTube link.

Now, here is the rest of the McIngvale story.

When Jim McIngvale arrived in Houston he did not have much. He did have an idea and he pursued it passionately. An investor who promised to back Jim and his concept pulled out and so McIngvale took $5,000 of his own money and with his pickup truck began to pursue his dream.

His company, Gallery Furniture, opened in 1981 in an old pre-fab home sales center on the city’s north side. Jim cut down walls and converted the four or five houses into a modest showroom. He even considered looking into getting Store Display fixtures from quality manufacturers to ensure the designs of his showroom would attract the customers even more. Then he started buying new surplus furniture, including mattresses, from name-brand manufacturers. And he did something no one else was doing or was willing to do: provide same-day delivery. The drivers that he hired to perform such ambitious tasks may have had the latest fleet tracking software (look over here for more info) in their vehicles, thus allowing managers to know the exact location of their fleets at all times. In turn, this would enable them to accurately inform customers about the progress of their orders, especially if they had asked for same-day delivery. In short, he was one of the first furniture market disrupters.

His business faced challenging times in 1983 during an oil-patch recession. Faced with a do or die situation, McIngvale took his last $10,000 and invested it in a commercial that would be aired on two local TV stations. He had a lot to say in a short amount of time, hence his now famous rapid-fire delivery. He was not satisfied with the way the ad would finish so he improvised. As it turned out, that closing tag line became a major market differentiator. And for years afterward, his commercials always concluded with Mack jumping in the air pulling a roll of money from his back pocket yelling, “Gallery Furniture will save YOU money.”

The commercial worked and a business icon was born. While some grimaced or rolled their eyes when the ads aired, that fact is his business took off.

As his success grew and as he became a familiar household name, McIngvale began to expand the quality of his brands with a variety of price points while continuing to offer significant savings over the legacy stores. Suddenly his customer profile began to change. The parking lot at his newer 165,000 square showroom was filled with a wide range of vehicles, from the small and worn, to fancy pickup trucks, luxury sedans and SUVs. To drive home his point that Gallery Furniture was now a more mainstream retailer, versus his initial brand of warehouse discounter, he created a series of radio commercials featuring a reluctant, somewhat embarrassed resident of an upscale neighborhood who was concerned with what his neighbors might think if he bought furniture from Gallery. “Don’t worry sir,” Mack assured his future customer for life, “we will use the unmarked trucks.”

Years later he was asked the secret to his success: “Late to bed, early to rise. Work like hell and advertise.”

As the business flourished, McIngvale began to support local charities. Some of his work includes contributing furniture to refurbish the 130 USOs around the world, and providing new furniture for teacher’s lounges in Houston area schools and the Houston Livestock and Rodeo.

Although he has had his conflicts with taxing entities and under gone business setbacks as when a former employee set a fire that destroyed his warehouse in 2009, he is known as a good neighbor citizen who has generously contributed and a business leader who lives his values.

Why does he spend so much money on his customers and his community? “It was the way I was brought up, it is what my parents taught us to do,” he said in an interview, his voice cracking with emotion.

He learned his lesson well.

What an amazing example of true servant leadership, someone who does not leave it at the office.

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© 2021 John Gregory Self

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