‘Everybody has to go to bed’: the life and philosophy of Mattress Mick
Mick, part of the furniture of Dublin retail, talks about his family (Margaret, Michelle and Marina), his local celebrity, his ‘rare’ look, his ability to read women, and the unusual manner in which he likes to relax
The problem with Mattress Mick is that he is so quotable you can’t get it down fast enough. “This is our empire,” he says as walks through his showrooms in Dublin’s Malahide Road Industrial Estate in Coolock. The premises is dotted with cardboard cutouts of Mick himself. “They get a lot of attention,” he says. “And then people borrow them for parties.”
You don’t have to ask Mattress Mick any questions: this stuff just comes out of him all the time. To interview him is to stumble into a world that has been perfectly made – by him.
He is wholly at ease with public attention. “I’m complimented by it,” he says. “People on the street looking for my autograph. I have me on my vans as well. I have three vans. I don’t really need three. One’s just for publicity.”
The vans frequently turn up to public events such as charity bed-pushes, and anywhere there’s going to be a crowd – at the re-enactment of the Battle of Clontarf, for example, where Mattress Mick was swamped.
We talk in an office upstairs. On the desk is a photo of a girl so pretty that I think she is a model used to advertise picture frames, but in fact this is Michelle, the elder of his two daughters. At one point, in the days before Mattress Mick, Michelle was used in advertisements for the business, as her father is now. So, I say, that would make her Mattress Mi . . . Her father cuts me off. She doesn’t like that. “Not now she’s doing psychotherapy in London.”
A second daughter, Marina, was adopted from Russia. Everyone in Mattress Mick’s family has a name that begins with M. His wife is Margaret. “She thinks I’m mad.”
But he has seen his marketing strategy work. “We deliver 90 per cent of what we sell. In the last six months I have noticed we’re going to Howth, Malahide and Sutton as well as our usual areas.”
The strategy, which centres on his own image, includes Youtube videos, guest appearances and posters, most notably at the Five Lamps corner of Dublin’s North Strand. The mock election poster that went up recently had his face above the slogan “I’m the best”.
Waiting to be arrested
His showrooms are pretty basic. There’s a problem with dumping in the car park. But he makes the point that 90 per cent of his mattresses are Irish-made. Odearest won’t supply him, which is a bugbear. He is the subject of frequent litter fines because of his postering. He thinks this most unfair. He represents himself in court. He missed one court appearance and is waiting to be arrested – you can only feel sorry for the gardaí who come to do that.
He strikes you as a happy man, whose view of his own position is crystal clear. His competitor is not Ikea – “I call that an accessories shop; I’ve only been there once” – but Harvey Norman, which he visits regularly and copies layout ideas from.
Before the economic downturn he owned general furniture shops in two shopping centres on Dublin’s northside. South of the Liffey, his Pearse Street premises was well-placed to provide furniture for all the new apartments being built in the docklands. “Things were super,” he says. But even before the downturn he was thinking about a change of direction. “I wanted to do something in beds. Everybody has to go to bed. And I had to be creative because I didn’t have big budgets.” In the UK he saw companies such as Dreams and Bedshed thriving.
He drinks in the Yacht, near where he lives, in Clontarf. “I was doodling in the Yacht when I came up with the concept of Mattress Mick. And then this guy I knew, Paul Kelly, came over to me in the Yacht one night, and said: ‘You’re Michael Flynn. We’ll do a video and put it up on YouTube.’ ” Paul Kelly has directed more than 20 Mattress Mick videos. He and his company, Shoot Audition, also maintain Mick’s presence on Facebook and Twitter.
Back to the southside
This week they are due to shoot The Mattress Rap. Locations include Nutgrove Shopping Centre. Props include a De Lorean car. The clock tower in Rathmines is going to be hit by lightning. You can look at the storyboard, which is on display in the back room of the Pearse Street premises, if you don’t believe me. “It’s going to be fantastic,” says Mattress Mick.
He is at ease with how he looks. “I just look a little bit stupid, or rare, or different.” His look is carefully put together. You never know who might come into the showroom. “Channel 4 just walked in one day,” he says. His customers like him in the showrooms: “People want to see the boss.” He always wears a blazer with a handkerchief in the breast pocket. He is immensely proud of his hair.
With the release of the videos, Mattress Mick quickly assumed the status of living landmark. He made guest appearances on the comedian Katherine Lynch’s Wagon’s Den. In 2012 he appeared in a Meteor video signing a plaster cast “Mattress Mick”. “The number of people who saw that video was amazing.” He was invited to make guest appearances at birthday parties. “I don’t mind it. I’m beginning to enjoy it.”
In 2012 he closed his general furniture stores to concentrate on being Mattress Mick. He decided he had to get out of the shopping centres because the rents were very high – “and the service charges were higher than the rents, and the landlords wouldn’t play ball, so I said, ‘Good luck’.” He went into voluntary liquidation. “A lot of people had to change direction to survive the crash – not just little fellas like me”.
He has a long family history in Dublin retail. His father’s family, the Flynns, had a drapery shop on Pearse Street, where the Mattress Mick store is now. The family lived behind the shop, which specialised in selling work wear to Dublin’s fishermen. His mother’s family, the Smyths, had a pub on Sir Rogerson’s Quay. When his father died of asthma and emphysema at the age of 47, the young Michael left the bank where he had been working in order to support the family through retail. This involved selling Super Ser heaters and gas cannisters (an enormous business in the 1970s), and trading at Dandelion market.
His backstory has two factors that have been found to be definitive in the early life of successful people: the premature death of a parent, Michael Flynn snr, which he mourns to this day – “I only got to go for one pint with him” – and whose framed photograph hangs in the busy office downstairs; and the support and confidence of a significant relative – his late mother, Catherine Flynn. “I got on terribly well with my mother. She was very supportive and she’d go with my ideas. She was great.”
A way with women
As a schoolboy in Synge Street – he recalls happy days there – he always found it easy to talk to people. “I mean girls.” And Mattress Mick is confident with women. He kissed me when I first met him – which was a bit much, actually. But he does smell nice. He lies on his beds with his female customers. “Even if the husbands are with them. And I say, ‘Take a photograph’.”
A fellow retailer says of him: “People like him, he’s funny. Most of the buying decisions are made by women. If she relaxes and starts to laugh, you have her – she’ll buy anything.”
Mick says he knows by looking at women “whether they are married, living with a partner, or single girls”. It’s men he’s more critical of. If he was an ordinary fellow buying a bed, he says, and knew his wife, he wouldn’t be afraid to buy a bed. But the men must always check with the women, which is wimpish. “Whereas the women come in and decide and they say “f*** it, if he doesn’t like it he can get out’.” He says this admiringly.
“I concentrate on the positives,” he says mildly. On the desk is a prayer and white Bible in a presentation box. Religion is important to him. “I talk to God as a friend.”
On the other hand, he would hate to be presented as a Holy Joe, and says that he attends Mass at Whitefriar Street on Sundays because it is the fastest he has found. “In and out in 25 minutes.”
To relax he – wait for it – drives a taxi. This started because “I couldn’t justify spending €20,000 on a car to take me from Clontarf to Coolock”. Now he has 28 taxis. And on Sundays he loves just picking up a passenger. He loves not knowing where they’re going. “What?” he says. “I’ve never been to a football match. I’ve never read a book – just newspapers and magazines, I read a lot of them. It’s what I do to relax.”
He opens the little white Bible and reads the inscription inside. He is visibly moved by it. His two sisters gave him the Bible, as thanks for helping them. This is the only time during the interview when he falters. “It’s important,” he says. “I’ve never read it, but it’s important.”
Later I put a cardboard cut out of him in my small car. “Mind my arm,” says Mattress Mick as the cardboard folds at one of the cut-outs sleeves. But I’m emotionally involved enough as it is.
QUICK QUESTIONS: DREAMS, SCRATCHERS AND HAIR
Death Row meal? McDonald’s.
Person you’d most like to apologise to? My mother.
What are you like in bed? Fantastic. Considerate.
Do you dream? Yes.
Do you snore? No.
Do people call you “Mattress”? Yes they do. They say, “Hello, Mattress”.
How do you buy a good bed? Take your time. Do a lot of research. Lie on it – that’s the most important thing.
Do you sleep well? Lately I haven’t been. My mind is buzzing with thoughts. I get the first three or four hours all right but then I wake up and I find it very hard to get back to sleep again.
How would you like to be remembered? For my hair.
Where do you have breakfast? Insomnia.