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Mattresses fuel Gallery's success

Retail Stars of Bedding

Gallery Furniture owner Jim McIngvale shows a display of Sealy Optimum gel beds in the Houston store.Gallery Furniture owner Jim McIngvale shows a display of Sealy Optimum gel beds in the Houston store.
HOUSTON - He runs one of the most dynamic furniture stores in the nation, which he backs with a homegrown elixir of relentless, clever promotions, charitable events and educational programs. (Click here to see a slideshow.)
Jim McIngvale, Gallery Furniture's hardworking CEO, is a legendary figure on the retail landscape. And he's got an admission to make to a visiting Furniture/Today reporter: Mattresses make his furniture empire run.
"Our mattress sales have fueled the business the whole time," he said the other day. "It's amazing how much the marketing of mattresses has changed over the years, along with the price points."
Despite those changes, mattresses remain a vital driver of Houston-based Gallery's business, as they have been for decades.
McIngvale unlocked the power of the mattress category almost 30 years ago, when he created his trademark persona - Mattress Mack.
He tells the story this way: There was a guy who was running a tire store. He promoted his business by wearing a tire and becoming known as The Tire Man. And he built a very successful business with that self-promotion.
Many people would have looked at that guy, decked out in a tire, and laughed. It was McIngvale's genius to see a marketing opportunity. "I had to brand myself," he said. "I named myself Mattress Mack."
Taking his cue from The Tire Man, McIngvale began wearing a mattress suit in his TV ads. Thus was Mattress Mack born.

(Click here to see the Gallery furniture slideshow.)

A visit to Gallery Furniture these days finds a mix of mattress lines in his bedding department: Sealy, Stearns & Foster, Vi-Spring and Tempur-Pedic. He admits he's "a big Sealy fan," as might be expected of a retailer whose business is less than an hour from the small town that gave the brand its name: Sealy, Texas. "It all started right there," McIngvale said. "That's amazing."
His Sealy beds come from the Sealy plant in Brenham, Texas, which he says "is like buying locally."
Vi-Spring, a natural bedding line made in the United Kingdom, was added a few years ago. Gallery taps into the natural bedding consumers - "the Whole Foods market" - with that upper-end line, McIngvale said.
Gallery has a big display of Vi-Spring mattresses at the entrance to the store. The mattresses have been pushed together to create a sleep surface fit for a giant - or a kid who wants to play.
Placards nearby note that Vi-Spring mattresses once outfitted a famous ship - the Titanic.
Tempur-Pedic beds, like the other bedding brands, have their own section in Gallery's mattress department. Some of the Tempur beds are separated by dramatic headboards, giving shoppers in the department a measure of privacy.
Does memory foam sleep hot?
"I don't see it," McIngvale replied. He said he probably sees more customers each week than anyone in the country, and said those customers don't tell him that memory foam beds sleep hot. His conclusion: "That's an urban legend that's going to be hard to get rid of."
McIngvale admitted he was stunned to learn, during an early-morning drive last fall, that Tempur-Pedic was planning to acquire Sealy. "I started driving off the road," he recalled. "I couldn't believe it. That was totally unexpected."
Now that he's had time to consider the situation, McIngvale said he sees positives. "This will bring two great brands together," he said. "I think they will be smart enough to figure out how to make this work. Both of these companies have strong brands. Collectively, they will be better."
That proposed transaction is currently under regulatory review by the government, but bedding insiders believe the deal will be approved.
McIngvale's latest big idea in mattresses is an educational one. He recently partnered with Dr. James B. Maas, a well-known sleep researcher and educator, who shares his better sleep ideas with Gallery's customers and sales associates.
"Dr. Maas and his associates are training our staff as experts in guiding you to mattress products that will give you the rest you deserve," McIngvale says on Gallery's website. "Dr. Maas and I have the shared goal to educate you, our valued customers, to sleep better. You can achieve better sleep by understanding the process of sleep and knowing some easy to follow sleep rules and strategies."
That's an important crusade that can pay big dividends. "If people slept better," McIngvale said, "the country would run better."
That's a big challenge, but Mattress Mack is not one to shy away from a challenge.

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