Dreaming big and pulling through: Here are all the winners of 2018’s Smart50 category awards

Smart50 Awards 2018

Small business ombudsman Kate Carnell and Coastal Transport Services founder and Top Regional winner Ray Graetz.

While dreaming big is often part and parcel of running a business, many of the winners of this year’s Smart50 Awards’ category prizes have seen success by taking more risks and dreaming bigger than they ever had before.

Be it through ambitious and expensive marketing campaigns, aggressive international expansion, or even the joining of two unlikely faiths, the SMEs taking home SmartCompany’s category gongs have gone above and beyond the call of business.

Each year, SmartCompany asks applicants to say why they should be considered for one of the Smart50 Award’s category prizes, which recognise the best in exporting, retailing, innovation, regional business and franchising, along with awards for being a community hero and for being a Smart50 repeat offender.

This year, our panel of expert judges had their work cut out for them, with over 25 businesses vying for the specialist awards. Judges for the categories included small business ombudsman Kate Carnell, National Online Retailers Association chief Paul Greenberg, and COSBOA chair Peter Strong.

Read on to find out which Aussie SMEs took home the awards and the reasons for their wins.

Big gambles pay off

The winner of this year’s Community Hero award has gone to Smart50 regular Booktopia, despite the business falling short of making the list itself. Booktopia an online book retailer founded by Tony Nash, Simon Nash and Steve Traurig in 2004 pulled in an impressive $114 million in revenue in the last financial year with a three-year growth rate of 41.5%.

However, even more impressive is the business’ efforts in the world of community outreach programs and charitable support, with Booktopia being a longtime supporter of the Sydney Jewish Writers Festival.

But recently, after one of the company’s founders was at an Islamic bookstore, the business decided to help set up the first ever Sydney Islamic Writers Festival, which is set for 2019, with Tony Nash saying he did so because it was “important to him to have balance”.

“We then reached out to the director of the Jewish Writers Festival to see if she would be interested in supporting and sharing how to run one. She said she ‘would be honoured’. So now Booktopia has two faiths normally known to be at odds with each other, working together to start something special around books, reading and knowledge,” the founders say.

Another mammoth task pulled off by one of the Smart50 category award winners was by the winner of this year’s Top Marketing award Mountain Bikes Direct. The founders tell SmartCompany they had always wanted to run a travel competition and decided to do so midway through last year, though admitted it was a “massive undertaking” for a business of its size.

“Although many companies run travel competitions, we’d not seen examples of a business our size running a significant travel competition. We wanted to test whether a competition like this was viable for us as a way to build our list and engage with our existing database,” the founders say.

Unsure if it would pay off, the team went ahead with it anyway, and reaped the rewards, growing their mailing list numbers, revenue for the period, return on investment, and getting a number of brand new customers on board.

“This campaign was so successful, we are now scoping an even more exciting travel competition (with a much more sophisticated communication and marketing campaign, in partnership with a new MTB destination) to launch this year,” they say.

Here for the journey

The winner of this year’s Top Franchise award is pilates studio chain KX Pilates, with founder Aaron Smith saying he decided to franchise the business in 2010 because he was “passionate about people achieving their dreams of owning their own business and reaching financial freedom”.

Now with 89% of his near 50 franchisees profitable, and another 10 coming down the pipeline, Smith says winning this award is a “recognition of the hard work our franchisees have done in building the KX brand, along with recognition for my wife, Andi, and our head office team”.

Winning this year’s Top Retailer award is the oldest business on 2018’s Smart50 list: camping goods retailer Tentworld. The business boasts not only a high level of engagement from its customer base, but a high level of satisfaction too, posting stronger online review scores than any of its main competitors.

Despite being an older player, Tentworld has poured its efforts into online marketing and presence, launching a YouTube channel this year along with ramping up its SEO and digital marketing efforts.

With 21-50% of its revenue being made from exporting opportunities, the winner of this year’s Top Exporter award is car accessories retailer FitMyCar, with the founders saying the business decided to be globally focused from the get-go.

“Entering New Zealand in 2015 and the USA in 2016, we’ve successfully grown overall export revenue by 1185%, doubled our workforce, developed a highly scalable business model, and established ourselves as a leading manufacturer to consumer automotive brand,” the founders say.

“Revenue into our main export market, the US, has grown over 520%.”

Getting away from the hustle and bustle

Taking home this year’s Top Regional business category award is logistics operator Coastal Transport Services, who has been a major employer in the NSW Central Coast region for over 32 years.

Founder Ray Graetz estimates the business has contributed millions to the local economy, not just via employment of locals, but by bringing in out-of-town clients to benefit the community.

And for the winner of this year’s Top Innovator category award ELMO, it’s all about R&D, with the company dedicating 25% of its total staff to a locally-based research and development team.

This has allowed the company to significantly expand its number of products and modules on the market, launching an additional five since the company went public in June last year.

“The key driver for ELMO in adopting an agile work environment was to embrace innovation and enable the thought process, through an emphasis on community and collaboration,” the founders say.

Finally, the last category award was given to the company which has been on the Smart50 for the highest number of consecutive years, which this year was construction management consultancy Hunter Mason, who took home the Smart and Lasting Award.

2018 Smart50 Category Awards

Top Exporter Award


Winner: FitMyCar

Top Franchise


Winner: KX Pilates

Top Innovator Award


Winner: Elmo

Top Marketer


Winner: Mountain Bikes Direct

Top Retailer


Winner: Tentworld

Top Regional Business


Winner: Coastal Transport Services

Community Hero Award


Winner: Booktopia

Smart and Lasting


Winner: Hunter Mason


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