The History of Our Oklahoma and Arkansas Boat & RV Dealerships
John Mullen, better known in the boating industry as the legendary “Ugly John”, had a great deal of racing success, indeed, in his younger years-as his numerous trophies will attest. He raced from 1974 thru 1986, capturing three national speed records, two national championships and a world championship in drag boats and offshore racing. So how did this boat sales/marina dynasty begin over three decades ago? “I just needed a little extra money to support my boat racing habit.
My racing success was such that, a few weeks later, I needed more money. One thing led to another and here I am.” “My first boat deal was written on a brown paper sack, sitting on a milk crate on the dirt floor of my garage in the little Tulsa suburb of Turley, Oklahoma.” says Mullen. “After a few boat sales, we got enough money to pour a concrete floor. Then we got electricity, finally a door-and we were in business!” From his home-based sales in Turley, Mullen rented a 1,200 square foot building and took on new boat lines for the first time–Los Angeles-made Hondo and Dimarco racing boats.
A year later, he moved to South Tulsa. His first family style boat line was Celebrity, which he picked up when he moved to his first lake location–a 50 X 75 foot building at Keystone Lake near Tulsa. The Baja and Fountain performance boat lines came next, along with a Keystone Lake marina, Westport Marina, and a highway store in Grove, on northeastern Grand Lake ‘O The Cherokees. Grand Lake was such a success, he built a marina and added the Carver and Bluewater Yacht lines.
Thunder Bay Marina now serves as the corporate headquarters for the sprawling operations of “Ugly John’s Custom Boats & RV’s”. Ugly John is highly active in the operations personally, frequently flying from location to location, flying directly to the marina operations and flying customers in one of the operations three private planes to see detailed manufacturing operations at the facilities of one of the five boat lines he sells. As a part of the marina operations, Mullen also operates two clubs and restaurants and three retail outlets.
His personal passion is watching over a magnificent collection of more than forty vintage, pristine “muscle cars” from the 50’s and 60’s. Perhaps his most dazzling display is the Tulsa Boat, Sport and Travel Show, he also participates in The Dallas Boat Show, the Northwest Arkansas Boat Show, the Springfield (Missouri) Boat Expo and the nationally acclaimed Fort Lauderdale and Miami Boat Shows. He prides himself on the company’s ability to fit a boat to any style and any budget. “If a person can afford an 18-foot sport boat, we can take care of him”, smiles “Ugly John” Mullen. “From that day on, we can handle that person’s moves, right up to a 66-foot motor yacht. That’s why we carry such varied lines. We don’t want our customers to have to go anywhere else to find the exact boat they’re looking for!” Mullen’s expansive operation is an organized corporate machine, but it is still very personal, and very much a family affair.
His two sons, Jeremy and Chris, are both active in the business, in sales and in management. “They have been driving boats and trucks, and backing trailers down ramps since they could walk.” says Mullen. His wife, Velma, continues to oversee growing retail operations, regularly attending specialty markets throughout the nation, searching for new innovative decorator items and clothing lines for the three retail outlets. Rounding out the family oriented operation are Jeremy’s son, Blake and Chris’ sons Cooper and Barrett and daughters Megan, and MacKenzie who are the apples of “Papa’s” eye and are often seen in “Ugly John’s” arms, appropriately attired in their pint-sized Ugly John logo-filled wardrobes.
There is one more important point to be made, of course, or the story of “Ugly John” would not be complete… “Where did that name come from?” “It stuck with me since before college.” Grins Ugly . “One of my buddies overheard his wife, who hated my hair cut, say “Oooh John, you’re ugly.” and that’s all it took! My so-called ‘friend’ adopted the name and it stuck with my racing friends, my college buddies and, subsequently, my boat buyers.” Now, it is also the trademarked moniker of one of the most successful boat and RV sales operations in America. Ugly John’s Custom Boats & RV’s “I just hope people will think about boats just like the girl in college remembered my haircut,” Mullen said.