Tauranga Welcomes You!

Tauranga Welcomes You!

Kiwi Immigrants Blog

The Couple Bringing European Style to Tauranga’s Signage Industry
2 June 2019
The Couple Bringing European Style to Tauranga’s Signage Industry

Having lived in many countries and cities around the globe, it was Philipp Wilkens' exchange experience in Whangarei at the tender age of 14 that stuck in his mind.

“New Zealand always stayed with me in such vivid detail that I managed to convince my wife who has never been here before to make this our new home.”

Philipp, from Germany, and his Ukrainian wife, Maria, moved to Kiwi shores in 2017 and settled, as many new migrants do, in Auckland. But a weekend trip to Tauranga altered the course of their lives and careers.

To the Wilkens, Tauranga felt like the ‘real New Zealand’, and as soon as they saw the place, they wanted to live here. Unable to find suitable jobs, the couple spent their life's savings buying local signage business, Computastyle Signs, and they’ve been making strides in the signage industry ever since, even winning an award at the recent New Zealand Sign and Display Awards.

This is Philipp’s story.

Where did you grow up? 

I was born and raised in Munich, Germany but have lived in many countries over the years. My wife Maria is from Kharkov in the Ukraine.

Can you tell us about your career to date?

I got a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Mannheim, worked in a Swiss bank, got my Masters in Finance in Barcelona, worked in various finance roles in Switzerland then moved back to Germany to work for a large brokerage firm.

In February 2017, I moved to Auckland for a quick stint as a KiwiSaver expert before joining the supervision team of the Financial Markets Authority (FMA). And then – out of nowhere – the exciting world of signage!

How did Tauranga end up on your radar?

While living in Auckland we explored as much of the country as we could and one fateful weekend trip brought us to Tauranga. We didn’t know what to expect, but fell instantly and completely in love with it, so much so that we found ourselves coming back time and again. We moved here on 25th of May 2018.

What is the story behind buying Computastyle Signs? 

We really wanted to move here, this was the New Zealand lifestyle that we had hoped for when coming here. We started looking for jobs in Tauranga but unfortunately didn’t find anything fitting throughout our year-long search.

All of a sudden the idea was born to use our savings that we had built up for buying our family home to acquire an established business instead. My parents had been small business owners all their life, so I thought I knew what to expect. Plus with a background in business administration and Maria’s diploma as a printing engineer, what could possibly go wrong?

After looking at a lot of businesses we finally settled on Computastyle Signs because it was just the right size, had a fantastic team and a great reputation in town.

In what ways do you want to put your own stamp on it? 

We wanted to make it even better! We have big plans for the business and have changed it in several ways already. Our biggest priority is a European-style customer focus with quick turn-around times, superior service and a satisfaction guarantee for our clients – all while having fun at work.

In the year that we have run the business we have heard many complaints about signwriters being messy and unreliable, which is something that we are getting better at every day.

Another big focus is constant innovation, such as digital signage and adding web-design and web development, which is Maria’s background, to our services. Our long-term goal is to be the number one branding partner for our clients, solving their problems and allowing them to focus on their core business.

Tell us about your recent win at the NZ Sign and Display Awards.

We won a national award for an iwi mural we created at the Historic Village. Made up of a 4500 by 6800mm glass panels, it hangs over the main reception and goes hand-in-hand with the glass art we created for six separate meeting rooms at co-working space The Kollective. We are all super stoked with this success after just one year, being chosen from more than 600 entries is some fantastic recognition and inspires us to do even better at the next awards.

What were the challenges of buying an established business as newcomers to the city?

Buying an established business is very much like being chucked into the deep end – all of a sudden, you need to learn oh so many new things. You want to do a great job, so you end up working very long hours – in the first six months 70-plus-hour weeks were the norm and it took us two full months until we took our first Sunday off.

Since you know nobody in town you get to focus 100 percent on the business, but even though we love spending time just as a couple, we had a fairly lonely personal life.

Has this changed over the past year?

Things have definitely improved since the early days. While we often still end up in the office on Sundays, we have an iron-clad rule of never working on Saturdays to allow us to recover from a stressful week. We still work 55 to 60 hour weeks, but it feels a lot better and gives us time to explore our new surroundings and have fun.

While we have managed to find some friends and socialise more, this is certainly an area with room to grow. Our goal is to get to a point where we can both join a club or sport and enjoy everything Tauranga has to offer.

What is Tauranga like as a place to run a business? 

Somewhat cliquey but also relaxed. Everybody seems to know each other and relationships count for a lot – this can be daunting for new-comers but usually we only need one chance to convince new customers of our services. At the same time it is a fascinating mixture of a city re-inventing itself with many people still bringing a relaxed “she’ll be right” attitude to daily interactions.

What has surprised you about Tauranga? 

How international, cosmopolitan and vibrant it is – in Europe a town of this size would be sleepy and fighting to keep young people from leaving for the larger cities. Thanks to the lifestyle but also the tourism industry, Tauranga has a lot to offer!

What do you love about living in Tauranga? 

The nature, the beach, the great food, the casual beauty of it all. No matter where we go, we are amazed at how enchanting New Zealand is, particularly the Bay of Plenty.

What has moving to Tauranga meant…

For your career? 

A lot of work, a lot of fun and a tremendous amount of opportunity.

For your wellbeing? 

Less sleep than we would like, but more time spent in nature – swings and round-abouts!

For your relationship? 

Our relationship was great before we moved here, but it has grown even stronger now. Knowing that we can rely 100 percent on each other and that we share the same goals is very powerful.


Gets You Thinking Doesn't It?

No-one can tell you when you're ready for a change of lifestyle...but when you are, we'd love to have you in Tauranga!

1. Join us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TaurangaWelcomesYou

2. Subscribe to our montly e-newsletter to receive stories just like this one about people who have already made the big move you are thinking of making. 

3. Have a story to share? We love sharing your sea-change or homecoming stories. Email me at kathryn@priorityone.co.nz to start a conversation.

Meet Kathryn Overall
Explore www.wishyouwereworkinghere.co.nz


Looking for work in Tauranga?

Send me your CV and a 100 word bio and we will send it out to local businesess who are on the lookout for good people. Priority One is not a recruitment agency, but as the economic development agency for the region we seek to make connections for people where we can. There is no charge for this service.

Email me at annie@priorityone.co.nz.

Annie Hill | Priority One
Communications/Project Manager

Contact Annie

Contact Annie

Need help? Contact Annie

Send us your 100 word bio and we will send it out to local businesses who are on the lookout for good people! annie@priorityone.co.nz

Tauranga Welcomes You

Tauranga Welcomes You


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About Kathryn

About Kathryn


Kathryn Overall is the friendly voice behind the 'Wish You Were Working Here' stories and Facebook posts.  Each month she chats with returned Kiwi expats,  Auckland imports and New Zealand immigrants who have moved to Tauranga, collecting their stories and advice to share with you. 

CLICK HERE to read her own story of reluctant homecoming!


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