Mattress Mack and TQM


Now that I’m retired, I still find links to my career.  Sometimes this happens at an odd moment.  A recent event occurred around Game Six of the 2022 World Series.  My daughter sent the family a text that said that Jim McIngvale, a.k.a. “Mattress Mack” from Houston, would be throwing out the first ball of Game Six.  Mattress Mack is an icon of Houston.  He gained fame from his corny commercials about his furniture store (“Gallery Furniture SAVES YOU MONEY!”).  Early on, he dressed up for some commercials in a mattress costume (hence “Mattress Mack”).  When I got this text, I remembered many Mattress Mack stories, but most dear to me was a conversation I had with him in his store in the early ‘90s.  This got me thinking about Total Quality Management (TQM) which took American business and management by storm in the late ‘80s and ‘90s in the USA.

This text made me wonder what ever became of the TQM movement.  Some things don’t necessarily go away.  This is true for the systems and philosophies that yield results.  After the Astros won the World Series, I couldn’t stop thinking about Mattress Mack, TQM, and W. Edwards Deming.

Who was W. Edwards Deming?  He was the reason I met Jim McIngvale and held a conversation with him in his store with my family.

I became a student of TQM and QI (Quality Improvement) in the early ‘90s.  There were two big TQM “gurus” at the time – W. Edwards Deming and Philip Crosby.  Chevron was adopting TQM and gave their business units latitude to select the philosophy to follow.  My group picked the Deming philosophy.  I trained in this philosophy and even attended a four-day session with Dr. Deming in February of 1993.

My family lived in Houston between 1990-1994, so I was familiar with McIngvale’s Gallery Furniture.  One evening my wife and I took our two daughters to Gallery Furniture to shop.  Walking around the store, I noticed quite a few Deming quotes.  Mack was in the store, so I approached him to talk Deming and TQM.  He was all-in for Deming’s philosophy and was transforming his management style as a result.

Gallery Furniture experienced rapid growth in the ‘90s.  (For more information on Mack’s business sense, see for a good recap.)  Mack has attributed the growth to his adoption of Deming’s philosophy.

[As a quick aside, I used my experience with Deming to contradict one of my MBA professors in 1999.  This professor, who shall remain unnamed, was talking about TQM and how he was good friends with Deming.  I blurted out in class “Deming’s dead!”  I told him that his “friend” had been dead for six years.  Not one of my finer moments!]

Jim McIngvale not only threw out the first ball of Game Six, but he also made news winning a record $75 million by betting $10 million on the Houston Astros to win the World Series.  He made this bet to hedge his promotion on sales of mattress sleep sets ( see for the details).

While it was fun seeing the Astros win the World Series and remembering my Mattress Mack stories, I also got a chance to revisit my history with TQM after many years.  I still believe TQM works, especially if it is consistently applied.  Jim McIngvale used it to make a step-change in his business and has reaped the rewards.  He didn’t brag on his success, he just continued to serve his customers using TQM.  He is an excellent example of living a philosophy that works.

Living the TQM philosophy consistently and constantly is much better than “tooting your horn.”  Jim McIngvale didn’t apply for the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award (MBNQA).  The MBNQA was an attempt by the U.S. government to showcase companies who applied TQM.  Unfortunately, this award was more detrimental to the winners in the long run.  This isn’t only my opinion.  See the editorial “Time to kill the Malcolm Baldridge Award” from Design World magazine to find out what the Executive Editor of Design World had to say in early 2021 (see for the digital version).

It strikes me that almost every management fad ultimately fizzled.  Constancy of purpose and methods wins the day, if a spirit of continuous improvement is included.  What I learned from TQM substantially influenced my management style.

Did you experience TQM?  What was your experience with it?  Do you believe it was a management fad that disappeared? If you have a positive experience and integrated TQM philosophy into your leadership style, I’d love to connect with you and share stories.