My Experience At The Telstra Business Women's Awards


Taking part in the Telstra Business Women's Awards has been the undoubted highlight of my professional year, and until now, I wan't able to say much publicly about it. 

The whole process started months ago, when I was nominated to apply for an award in the Start Up Category. The application package was somewhat daunting - over a week a wrote mini essays on topic after topic to do with my business practices, philosophies, and innovation. It was rigorous, thought provoking, and I really did think that would be the end of it. 

But months later I got a call. I had made the top 10 in my category and was invited to come to Telstra HQ in Brisbane for an interview. I had to submit financial information about my business too, which I found most daunting of all - I had to look up 'amortisation' in the dictionary to realise I didn't have easy answer to the accountancy questions posed.

I prepared for the interview the night before, by having N ask me questions we thought might come up. I was nervous and worried I'd go blank. I reviewed my talking points, jotted down the key values that dictate how I run my business and the ideas that have inspired my path. The actual meeting was more relaxed that I'd anticipated and I found that I enjoyed it. Again I thought the process would end for me there, but I was grateful for what I'd been through to that point - having to distill what I do in that way was an exercise in clarity and left me feeling more purpose driven than ever. 

A day later the phone rang again. I had been named a finalist. I was going to the gala. I had a media training session to attend. I needed to amend my air tickets, cut my holidays short. I needed to find an outfit and write a speech. I was excited - awed really - but still I couldn't tel anyone until the official press release had been sent.

I went away on vacation and didn't think about the awards much. In London, my ma and I went shopping for a minimalist top to match the ball skirt she'd brought from home for me. I came back to Brisbane and, still jet lagged, attended the Telstra networking events and wrote my speech. Two speeches, actually. One to give if I won my category. A second to give in the much less likely event that I won the Queensland Businesswoman of the Year award. 

My husband was too ill with the flu to attend the awards, so I my excellent friend and partner in Homeroom Claire stepped in to escort me to the gala awards dinner. Claire, in her navy cocktail dress, was subsequently named best dressed in the Courier Mail that weekend - it was well earned - she looked amazing!

In the end I didn't win. But that didn't take away from the fun of the night, the honour of being a finalist, or the pleasure of meeting so many amazingly innovative, collaborative women.


I was a little disappointed not to have the chance to give my speech, which I thought was rather good. I'm posting it down below because it's my blog, and I can give it here if I want to! 

Thank you, Telstra Awards team, for this honour.

Good evening.

My name is Catherine.

About a year and a half ago, I opened a concept store called Showroom. Showroom trades in beautiful, artisanal design wares gathered from makers and brands from here in Brisbane, across Australia, and around the world. It’s curated like a magazine, ever changing like a gallery, and of course we’re in the business of selling things like a shop.

I came to Australia from Canada nearly 5 years ago in support of my partner’s career. I had no idea back then that it would be here in Brisbane that I would create a dream and a business of my own.

I’m a professional historian by training; I’m a lover of stories with a soft spot for nostalgia. Although history may seem like an unlikely background for a retail entrepreneur, researching and teaching about the past enhanced my natural curiosity and honed my inclination to seek meaning and connection in ideas, relationships, and material objects.

This is at the core of what I, and by extension my business, am about.

Here’s what I find so fascinating about retail: It’s clear to me that in 2015, our consumer brains have been significantly rewired by the internet and social media. Consciously or unconsciously, we’re all more design literate, more selective, and our appetite for content has grown. We’re more interested in the stories that give objects meaning, and more invested in the notion that our possessions reflect and shape our identities.

This has largely come about because of the way incredibly innovative brands have rewritten the rules of online retail over the past 10 years. But here in the real world, where we all still mostly live, the way stores operate has stayed pretty much the same, and we’re seeing the impact of that with vacant signs up and down our high streets.

This is worrying, because I believe that traditional shop-fronts are essential gathering places that keep our neighbourhoods vibrant and connected. I also believe that it’s important for our communities culturally and economically that artists, artisans and local businesses can afford to work and thrive.

So, with a little experience as a blogger and a few seasons of running my own market stall and online shop under my belt, I decided to see what I could do about re-thinking bricks and mortar retail.

We have a lot going on in my company and at Showroom, but the overarching strategy is pretty simple – Be collaborative on every level. Be aesthetically crisp and clear. Deliver the most connective and inspiring customer experience by taking the best trends from the digital world and amplifying them in store.

As we all know, starting up is all consuming. From the bottom of my heart I want to thank my family for their encouragement and support and my #teamshowroom for making everyday possible. I want to pay tribute to the other women in the startup category whose businesses and approach to business are nothing short of inspirational. And to the rest of the finalists here tonight, my hearty congratulations – I wish you the very best luck!

Thank you.