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Case Study: Gallery Furniture’s Responsibility to Communities
Corporate actual responsibility entails an obligation to invest broadly in actual communities rather than funding and advocating national progressive causes.
Gallery Furniture, an independent retailer in Houston, Texas, has become a fixture of its local community by dedicating company assets and orienting operations toward supporting the local common good. CEO Jim McIngvale, who founded the company in 1981, explains his commitment simply: “Capitalists like myself have an obligation to give back and make our communities a better place.”
McIngvale has long been a public figure in Houston, beloved as “Mattress Mack” for his notorious, low-budget commercials featuring him wearing a mattress and delivering the tagline, “Gallery Furniture will save you money!” Offering value-priced furniture and guaranteeing same-day delivery to mostly blue-collar households drawn to Houston by its booming industrial economy, he has built a $175-million business that sells more furniture per square-foot of retail space than any independent retailer in the country. Over the years, McIngvale has tried to be a responsible employer and businessowner – restructuring compensation to create more stable income for employees and stocking inventory with nearly all American-made products. “It was unbelievable for some,” he says, “to think that a business could make a decision based on patriotism or because it was the right thing to do.”
Gallery Furniture and “Mattress Mack” have spearheaded a number of charitable programs in Houston. For nearly forty years, the company has furnished the homes of thirty local families at Christmas. It hosts thousands of Houstonians for a free Thanksgiving meal, partners with the USO to refurnish facilities for military families worldwide, and funds local public spaces from YMCA playgrounds to exhibits at the Houston Zoo to tennis courts and equipment for underserved neighborhoods. McIngvale has earned numerous honors for his philanthropic work in the city and was the first “Point of Light” award recipient to be personally nominated by President George H.W. Bush.
But what distinguishes Gallery Furniture is that it invests directly in the community and uses its own assets and operations, not just charitable donations, to address local challenges. In 2017, when Hurricane Harvey left much of Houston underwater, Gallery Furniture deployed its delivery trucks to rescue flood victims and transformed its showrooms into shelters for displaced residents. Evacuees received clean clothes, toiletries, and new mattresses as well as access to free meals and portable showers.
More recently, Gallery Furniture has repurposed its stores in another way. The average household income within a five-mile radius of Gallery Furniture’s largest stores is just $29,000. Seeking a better way to invest in these communities, McIngvale resolved to equip residents with the skills and credentials to seek employment at his stores and elsewhere in the area. He downsized his 120,000-square-foot, flagship store and dedicated half of its footprint to a new community center called WorkTexas. The center provides completion credits for those seeking a high school diploma as well as free vocational training and certification in skilled trades, such as carpentry, metalworking, and commercial truck driving—creating a viable path to employment at Gallery Furniture or elsewhere in Houston. Designed in partnership with local non-profit organizations and education providers, the center also offers support services, such as childcare, counseling, financial planning, English language courses, and career guidance.
Corporations regularly sponsor local or national causes in exchange for a prominently placed logo, but such initiatives often fail to address the root problem, which is not just lack of cash but lack of talent and infrastructure. Using a business’s own resources and capabilities may not deliver the same bang for the marketing buck, but it is more likely to be exactly what the local community needs.