Where Are They Now? Ashley Read

• Checking in with 2016 MRAA Educational Foundation Duane Spader Leadership Development Scholarship Recipient Ashley Read, Colorado Boat Center Co-Owner

A lot has happened in Ashley Read’s (Smith) career since she received the MRAA Educational Foundation’s Duane Spader Leadership Development Scholarship eight years ago. She married, bought a lake house and succeeded her parents as Colorado Boat Center’s co-owner along with her brother and GM Eric Smith. She also learned how to lead, remove emotion from situations and put the customer first, always!

Where are they now? Ashley Read
Ashley Read (Photo courtesy CBC)

Q: What has your marine industry career been like since receiving the Duane Spader Business Development Scholarship in 2016?

Read: I was in a pivotal year when I applied for the scholarship for the first time. My first application showed my apprehension in committing to the marine industry as a career. The next year was a lot of soul-searching, and I reapplied. My brother, Eric and I signed our succession papers for our family dealership the day I jetted off to the first Spader course. The course took me from a full-time salesperson to a leader within our organization.

Q: Why should the Duane Spader Leadership Development program be viewed as an investment?

Read: Change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to establish and adapt to new habits. The commitment to the program is a commitment to yourself and your organization. The way that Spader maps it out over a long period, allows the participants to learn in a classroom, take it back to their organization and implement changes. As participants, when we returned to the classroom, we would openly share what worked and what didn’t. The entire group was doing the work, and you had peers to celebrate your wins and brainstorm what didn’t work and what might work better next time.

Q: What sort of best practices did you retain from the Leadership Development program that still plays a role in your day-to-day at Colorado Boat Center?

Read: On the daily, favorable and unfavorable situations. I don’t have to pull the chart out as much as I used to, as it’s become second nature, but I use these to manage employees and to work with customers. This tool takes the emotion out of the situation.

Q: How important is it to engage employees to keep them invested in the business through continued training, certification, or scholarship opportunities?

Read: When your employees invest themselves in learning the ins and outs of the dealership and want to know how they can contribute to the success of the dealership, it’s a win-win for everyone involved. We regularly have meetings about the overall health of the dealership and break it down by department while allowing team feedback. We’ve found that our transparency has improved our culture. Rarely do we have to ask our employees to take training courses. They’re usually the ones to ask us. They take more ownership when it’s their idea.

Q: Will you explain what it’s like to be an integral part of your family’s business and how you juggle the work/life balance with parents and siblings?

Read: You would laugh if you compared my family’s DiSC personality profiles. We’re a mix of high I, D and C — off the charts in all and in 97%. If it weren’t for the DiSC profiling, we’d probably not work well together, but it’s quite the opposite. It took COVID for us to realize how important work/life balance was for all of us. We cut our days of operation from six days a week to five. It made us all realize there was more to life than just the family dealership. We encourage each other to make time for passions outside of boating and take time off, whether as a family or individually. It has improved the overall health of our family and the dealership.

Q: As a women professional and co-owner, how can your success help inspire your workforce and other women to keep pushing for their dreams?

Read: Being a woman in the industry doesn’t define my role and/or fuel my success. I’ve learned so much from both men and women in the industry, two of which are my parents, who have taught me so much. I’ve learned how to leverage my success by knowing the advantage of being unique in a male-dominated industry. When you’re a woman and you can talk about motors and boats intelligently, you win the praise of your male clients and the trust of the women. For anyone in the industry, it’s hard to fake the passion of boating. You either love it or you don’t. If you don’t, it will show in your results.

Q: Will you describe a customer experience that has helped you change or adapt your approach to selling?

Read: It was a Saturday afternoon in the middle of June. We’d already turned off the open sign and were getting ready to run into the weekend when a family walked in the side door that hadn’t been locked yet. They were in town for a softball tournament and decided to look at boats during a break between games. They had never owned a boat, so they weren’t sure if they would even have the time to go boating. They wanted to know everything. My mind was already on the weekend, and I was struggling to turn the attention off of myself and onto this family that thinks maybe they want a new boat. They were very energetic, and it was hard to keep them all rounded up as they were distracted by all the shiny boats we had on display. I was losing control of the sale.

At that time, I mustered up every ounce of energy I had left, shifted the focus to them and adapted to the situation. Soon after, the rapport came easy and we were all having fun. I did not close the sale that day. I beat myself up pretty hard, wishing I’d been more on point and focused on why they came in. I felt it was going to be a hard lesson learned.

The following business day, I got a phone call from this same family, which turned into another dealership visit and then them purchasing the most expensive boat in the showroom. To this day, this family is one of my most loyal customers and has since referred more customers to me. In one of their CSI surveys, which they gave us 100%, they mentioned coming in after hours and how I spent so much time with them when I could have told them we were closed.

In the leadership program, we learn how to adapt to different situations and change them by adjusting ourselves. Whether it be your attitude or personality, there are ways to shift one or both to have better engagement with your customers. I still think I got lucky that day. If I hadn’t had the tools to adapt and change the situation, it could have been someone else’s lucky day.

Where are they now? Ashley Read
(From left) The Smith family in Tom, Nancy, Eric and Ashley Read (Smith) has led the Colorado Boat Center, an MRAA Gold Member and Certified Dealership, since 1990. (Photo courtesy CBC)

Q: Your dealership is on its second generation, as are many of your clients, so what does it mean for your business to maintain your family legacy and second-generation loyalty with your customers?

Read: There are so many pain points for everyone involved in succession, not limited to just family, and like our situation, one day it finally clicked. It is important to respect the first generation and honor the blood sweat and tears it took to establish and make the business successful in the first place. As a second-generation-owned business, the goal isn’t to reinvent the wheel but to carry the same values while implementing new ideas that speak to the new generation doing business with us so they, too, have a great experience.

Q: Will you describe a perfect day on the water?

Read: “Sunday fun day” with my husband, my brother and my sister-in-law. I’m blessed to live on a private lake that allows us to take full advantage of boating without the hustle and bustle of the public lakes on the weekend. Our day starts at 7 a.m., with waterskiing. We break for breakfast, have an afternoon surf session and top off the day with a sunset pontoon cruise.

Q: What keeps you busy when you’re not working or on the water?

Read: Time with family and friends, my cat, Pilates, baking, reading and traveling to a new destination each year.

Revisit the 2017 interview with Ashley and her brother Eric Smith.