May 23, 2012

Capitalism, Part I: Retail - Jim McIngvale

Capitalism, led only by faith and freedom, has deep roots in America’s history. It is the economic system that built the greatest nation on earth, yet today it is under assault. For those who choose achievement over government dependence, it is important to go to ground zero in today’s economy: Houston, Texas. Why Houston? A global city, Houston’s economy ranks #1 as the fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States and tops New York as America’s most ethnically diverse. Nationwide, as companies flounder in a down economy, insight is gleaned from three of Houston’s top business leaders. Through them, the primacy of American Capitalism is on full display.

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How do you become the owner of the largest furniture retail company in history? Two words, work ethic. Those words aptly describe Jim “Mack” McIngvale, founder and owner of a sprawling retail complex in Houston known as Gallery Furniture. McIngvale’s vast acreage of furniture for every family ranks as the sales-per-square foot leader for any furniture store in the United States. Upon entering the store, his employees appear as ethnically diverse as his variety of styles of furniture. An early morning pep talk is underway to his sales staff reminding them that as practicing capitalists, “their time is their money.” Fully hands-on in every aspect of his business, Jim “Mack” McIngvale practices what he preaches from greeting customers coming through the door to making television commercials where he regales that buying at his stores, “Saves you money!” A business changing paradigm occurred when he guaranteed customers “same day delivery.” He grins, “Find out what customers want and deliver it to them, imagine that.” Known locally as “Mattress Mack,” McIngvale lives and breathes the Judeo-Christian work ethic he got from his father. His creed is, “Work wins.”

Coming from Mississippi in 1981, McIngvale eventually landed in Houston with $5,000 in his pocket and built his business to over $200 million in annual sales. He did it the old-fashioned way; he worked for it. The question is: With consumer spending sluggish at best, if Mattress Mack were starting his business in today’s economy, could he succeed? McIngvale concedes it would be much harder under current conditions with tightened regulations on business, depressed incomes on buyers and economic uncertainty. He says the answer is to “outlast them,” alluding to heavy-handed government interference. His message to the government is, “Let my people go. Turn them loose. Big brother does not know how to operate this business. Let some succeed and some fail – by failure you learn what you did wrong and you will do it better next time. In this country, people should pursue dreams and stand up and say I am accountable for it.” He admires Wimbledon champ Billie Jean King’s advice, “Be accomplished, then famous.”

An experienced entrepreneur who had to work for success, McIngvale cites less taxes and smaller government coupled with self-reliance as the means to rebuilding a viable business environment that leads to jobs and family security. He blames Democrat President and former Texas Governor Lyndon Baines Johnson for the cycle of welfare that robs able-bodied people of their dignity and incentive to work. “LBJ’s Great Society in 1964 had huge unintended consequences,” he says. After hiring hundreds into his work force, McIngvale concludes that, “Welfare does not provide values. People who work are happier, more productive and they grow as human beings and as citizens. Sitting home and watching TV all day – you don’t grow.”

McIngvale worries about his grandchildren’s generation. Socialism is the road to failure for a nation and its people. McIngvale points to the failed Soviet and European experience, “Capitalism and free enterprise must prevail. Everyone must pull their own weight.” A businessman in the business of creating jobs for over three decades, McIngvale embodies the benefits of capitalism for himself and his employees, “It is criminal not to let people work. Giving welfare to those who are able to work demeans human life.” As an employer of hundreds over the years and giving others a hand-up even when he was in need of one himself, he advises that if you are out of work, go to your church to seek guidance. As a practicing Catholic, he singles out his admiration for the Mormon model of the importance of work for both communities and families.

While proclaiming, “Work is one of life’s greatest therapies,” the heart of this purveyor of capitalism lies in giving back to his community. Annually, his Christmas Furniture Giveaway provides relief for those in need. As his furniture business grew, the greater his gifts became to scholarship programs, medical care, young future farmers, and to those who needed a helping hand to get back on track. Starting in 2008, as thanks to America’s military, Gallery Furniture has redesigned and refurbished 130 USO Centers worldwide.

After 31 years of becoming “an overnight success” under capitalism and free enterprise, Jim “Mack” McIngvale says he firmly “believes in the power of the American people, not the power of government.” His message to government is, “What will save the country is a four letter word – work. Put people to work and everything improves. Their self-esteem, their ability to solve problems, their mental health, everything improves with that magical word – work.” McIngvale set out to run his own business, satisfy customers and give back to his community. Setting the gold standard for the work ethic that he learned from his father, Jim McIngvale attained and exemplifies success through capitalism in a free America.

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Permission to reprint is granted.

Sharon Sebastian ( is an author, writer, and contributor to various forms of media including cultural and political broadcasts, print, and online websites. In addition to the heated global debate on creation vs. evolution, her second book, Darwin’s Racists - Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, highlights the impact of Social Darwinism’s Marxist/Socialist underpinnings on the culture, the faith and current policy out of Washington.

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