It was 2005 and love at first site when Colac boy, Mat Forssman, clapped eyes on his future wife Alex behind the jump of the Terminus Hotel.
This simple anecdote continues to raise plenty of eyebrows in Mat and Alex’s adopted hometown of Geelong. To set the record straight, the pair met at the Terminus Hotel in Abbotsford, not the notorious former ‘gentleman’s club’ in Brougham St Geelong.
Today Mat and Alex own and operate Geelong businesses Signs t’Go and Big Bus Media, employing 6 staff. Behind the scenes are two small boys and a recently completed renovation to their Geelong West bungalow. These two bring new meaning to the term ‘we’ve been a bit busy.’
When they first met, Melbourne girl Alex was heading overseas. After completing her fine arts degree, Alex was preparing to study primary and secondary teaching. A European sojourn and associated hijinks seemed the perfect interlude. It was au-revoir for the loved up pair – but not for long.
On Alex’s return to Australia, Matt left the city, sea-changing to Ocean Grove. Alex enrolled at Deakin University and before long the young couple were shacked up in Alex’s family holiday house in Point Lonsdale.
Announcing to classmates in Grade 4 that he wanted to be a signwriter (how freaking adorable!) Mat was true to his word, completing his apprenticeship and kicking off his signwriting career in Melbourne.
The digitisation of the signwriting industry proved the catalyst for Mat’s successful transition to the Geelong region. Local signwriting business Signs t’Go had just invested $70,000 in new printing machinery after opening their doors two years earlier. Mat was the digital machine master in his previous Melbourne role. He was hired on the spot to fire up the new equipment, that at the time, was still sitting in its box.
An opportunity to purchase the Signs t’Go business arose just a few years later. Mat and Alex took the leap of faith with the help of local business advisor Rob Green at Stirling Accounting. “Rob was fantastic, turning the sale around in record time” says Mat. A mere 12 months later, revenue was growing by 100%.
Regional suppliers offer budget savings to big business
With clients ranging from boutique retail and franchises, medical and dental clinics, wineries and other attractions, to all kinds of commercial operators, Signs t’Go is expanding to service clients in Melbourne as well as national outfits like the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) and Cotton On. Offering graphic design through to sign production and manufacturing, Signs t’Go produces decal adhesives for car signage, beautiful custom timber signs and all kinds of illuminated and exterior signage to deliver impact out on the road, or on the street.
Businesses with national footprints are starting to realise they can get more bang for buck using regional suppliers when the quality of the work is undeniable. “We service national clients already, and we can do as much face to face time in Melbourne or anywhere else if we need to,” says Mat. “We also know our lower regional overheads make us almost impossible to beat when it comes to quoting for national accounts,” adds Mat. Signs t’Go also support brands with large regional footprints, like local health insurer GMHBA.
Mat and Alex’s other business is Big Bus Media. Big Bus Media is an outdoor media company operating across McHarry’s 200 strong fleet of buses. It’s another huge vehicle for local brand exposure and localised or larger campaigns.
Signs t’Go and Big Bus Media is so effective, Geelong radio networks K Rock and Bay FM use them to build brand awareness and audience size for their programs.
Geelong did the slow reveal
Despite the local business success, Mat and Alex never had designs on living in Geelong. “My early perceptions of Geelong were based on the freeway coming in from Melbourne, and the Moorabool St bus stops you see from Ryrie St when driving to the coast” says Alex. On that basis, family holidays to Point Lonsdale never included Geelong pit stops.
But in 2007, seeking better access to both Melbourne and Mat’s Geelong West workshop, the two moved into Geelong West when Alex took a teaching role in Altona. Twelve months later Alex took a role at Bellaire Primary School. With greater local connections and know-how, the two found themselves falling for Geelong’s charms.
“As with central Melbourne, many good things in Geelong are hidden,” says Alex. “Once we began to discover what was on offer, we thought Geelong had a fantastic lifestyle compared to suburban Melbourne, and Geelong has access to both Melbourne’s CBD, Surf-Coast and Bellarine Peninsula.
Mat cites another element in Geelong as a huge draw card: “people in Geelong are awesome,” he says. “We have amazing staff offering great service and workmanship, and it’s been amazing to see the number of small businesses kicking off in the last two to three years. There’s so many people really having a crack, whether it’s a café, bar, gallery, or architectural firm – there’s a whole a swag of interesting new businesses really. We obviously love seeing our clients grow through the extra recognition and impact that our signage can deliver.”
While Mat propels Geelong businesses with visual identity and brand exposure through Signs t’Go and Big Bus Media, Alex is an unofficial ambassador for moving to Geelong. “I get so defensive now when I’m talking about Geelong to Melbourne friends” laughs Alex. “I’ve recruited two out of three siblings to move down here,” she adds, highlighting her natural flair for marketing. “I’m pretty sure I can get Mum and Dad over the line too!” Alex laughs.
If Geelong can find a way to clone this creative entrepreneurial pair – we should. And we owe a debt of gratitude to the Terminus Hotel (in Abbotsford) for the legendary $5 steak night that spawned these cute lovebirds.
- Being able to walk everywhere – we don’t need a car in Geelong West
- Fast and easy access to the coast for beach days, beautiful walks and winery lurks
- The Barwon Club
- Little Creatures
- There’s definitely room for improvement on the public secondary school options front
- Diversity in Geelong can feel limited to the northern suburbs. It would be great to more diversity across the whole region