For 34 years, metro-Denver and Front Range boaters have found a welcoming reception at the Colorado Boat Center in Johnstown, along the access road off I-25.

That welcome was always part of the business plan of the company’s original owners, Tom and Nancy Smith. “We’re boaters too,” said Tom Smith, now 72. “Our family grew up playing on boats every summer here in Colorado. We’ve enjoyed that lifestyle, wanted to help support and grow boating in this area, and we always felt the best way to do that was to hire people who understood boating and to make every customer feel like they were one of the family.”

Tom Smith got into the boating business almost by accident. He originally had a career in the grocery business, but got into boating because he couldn’t find something he needed for his own boat.

“I was trying to find a good canvas boat cover for my boat,” he recalls. “I was always kind of against wrapping my boat in plastic for the winter – these days they’d say that wasn’t green. But I couldn’t find a reusable cover that fit my boat, so I decided to make my own.”

Experimenting with a commercial sewing machine, he eventually made a boat cover that fit. And then his friends asked if he could make one for them. And a business was born.

“It wasn’t long after that that I started helping people buy and sell their boats,” Smith said. “And that quickly became the Colorado Boat Center.”

From the beginning, Tom and Nancy Smith wanted to provide a variety of services that would enhance the boating experience for their customers beyond the initial purchase. Over the years, they offered programs in boating education, expanded their service department and built an expansive Pro Shop to carry boating accessories and gear.

“Everyone we hire is a boater,” Smith said, “So our customers know they can ask us about anything and we either know the answer or know who to call. And we work hard to create a family atmosphere—kids are always welcome at the CBC and we sponsor several outings and events during the boating year to which all are welcome.”

The Smith formula not only created a successful business, but an award-winning one. Colorado Boat Center was the first Certified Dealer in Colorado and one of the first in the nation in the program sponsored by the Five Star Marine Industry association, which awards certification based on customer satisfaction, adherence to the Consumer Bill of Rights, employee satisfaction and development, technical training, and showing consistent development and improvement in all departments: sales, service, parts and follow up.

Since 2006, CBC has been a Boating Industry Top 100 dealer. To attain this recognition, a dealership must display a consistent and clear understanding that profitability is related to customer satisfaction, that provides customers with an experience worth returning for and recommending to others, and that prepares for future success with sound planning, marketing and training initiatives.

But after running their business since 1990, Tom and Nancy Smith have decided to make way for a new generation of owners. Luckily, they had some ready to go: their son Eric Smith is now General Manager and Co-owner; and their daughter Ashley Read is Sales Director and Co-owner.

“Our kids grew up in this business,” Tom Smith said proudly. “They know how to do it. And they’ve got some ideas for carrying the business forward to meet the demands of customers today. I know they’ll do a great job. Their mother and I could not be more proud that our family business will still be in the family.”

One of the first things the new generation owners have done is revamp the brands that CBC offers.  Customers will find an inventory of new boats from Regal Boats, a prestigious name in luxury outboards, cruisers and sports models’; and from Barletta Pontoons, a line known for its craftsmanship and innovative design.  CBC also sells and services engines  from Mercury, Yamaha and Volvo Penta.

Another change to the company is the recent launch of a new interactive website. Designed and implemented by Boston-based Fuel Media. Inc., the new website makes it easier to search for inventory of new and used boats, arrange for service, order items from the Pro Shop and sign up for the boating classes offered by Colorado Boat Center. And a constantly updated blog on the website helps inform customers of sales and special events, as well as building the boater community that owners Tom and Nancy Smith always yearned for.

“We’ve been working with Fuel Media for the last several years to upgrade and improve our customer relationships through digital marketing and through our website,” said General Manager Eric Smith. “We all thought the time was now for a total redesign of our site, to make it easier for our customers to find us and communicate with us.”

Savash Kalay, CEO/Creative Director at Boston’s Fuel Media Inc., said the new website design was a natural progression for the company.  “We began our partnership with Colorado Boat Center with its original owners, Tom and Nancy Smith,” he said. “Now the Smiths are turning over the company to their son and daughter, the next generation, so it made sense to take a new look at the website and make it responsive for a new generation of boaters in the Denver area.”

One of the most popular offerings of Colorado Boat Center will continue and expand under the new generation’s ownership. Several years ago, Nancy Smith launched the “Women Making Waves” boating classes, mainly designed for women who wanted to get more comfortable with how-to boating skills. These popular classes are held at the Boyd Lake State Park by reservation only. 

At the request of several customers, CBC added another series of classes, “Men in the Know,” to provide the same basic boating knowledge base, this time for men new to boating or those who wanted a refresher. 

CBC also hosts an annual regatta meeting of Barletta pontoon boat owners and hosts other boating get-togethers, picnics and events during the summer months.

“It’s a good feeling,” Tom Smith says, looking back. “We’ve been fortunate. We built a business doing something we love, we’ve made so many friends over the years, and now we get to watch our kids take the ball and run with it, hopefully for years to come. How great is that?”