McKellar Renown Press: Historic foundations, modern approach

In the boardroom of McKellar Renown Press, co-general manager Chris Norgate checks his iPhone and his eyes light up – a client who has received the company’s exquisitely crafted promotional catalogue has just posted an image of the front cover on Instagram.

[Photos: Go behind the scenes]

Even without the tactile magic of the litho-produced coffee-table publication and the feel of its quality stocks, the book’s eye-catching design warrants a “like” on the social network. It should come as no surprise that social media is part of the Melbourne company skillset. It is a print shop with a young edge. Guests at this year’s National Print Awards might remember McKellar Renown as one of the big winners at the annual ceremony; they might also remember Chris Norgate taking to the stage to collect one of the firm’s four major awards and declare, “Print is rad.”

Chris is joined by his sister, Kerrie, and their cousin, Adam Norgate, as the next generation taking the reins at McKellar Renown (Chris and Adam are co-general managers and Kerrie is an account executive). The trio of twenty- and thirty-somethings have made sure McKellar Renown has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, mixing it with ad agencies and design bureaus on these sites.

In an era when even esteemed family print companies seem to be disappearing, this go-ahead commercial print company in Melbourne’s inner southeast bucks the trend. In fact, the generational baton has been passed on several times.

It all began when McKellar Press was acquired by Ray Norgate in 1946. Ray’s father Charlie, a linotype operator for most of his life, ran a linotype machine at its Malvern premises. Ray invested in two Heidelberg Platens, a vertical Miehle and a Heidelberg Cylinder, upgraded the composing room and added a Ludlow with 60 fonts of type.

Business boomed and by 1962, the company moved to larger premises down the road, installing its first offset equipment in the form of Heidelberg K-line presses. In 1973, when Ray’s son Steve joined his elder brother John in the company, the family purchased Renown Press in Carnegie and McKellar Renown Press was born.

Now a fourth generation – Chris and Kerrie are Steve’s offspring and Adam is John’s son – is re-imagining the company for the 21st century, building on foundations laid by their fathers, by grandfather Ray and by great-grandfather Charlie. They have built up a national and international market for their products.

During ProPrint’s interview, the three Gen Ys present as an enthused team, exhilarated by the possibilities of print, at times questioning one another, at other times finishing one another’s thoughts.

But far from retirement, Steve and John remain as co-managing directors and very much involved, (Steve has his list of long-held clients) and Ray, at 93, stills drops by, dispensing solid, craft-based advice. But the focus has shifted to the trio sitting at the boardroom table chatting to ProPrint.

“Our business philosophy isn’t ‘quote-and-hope’,” says Chris Norgate. “We’re actively collaborating with designers and agencies who are as excited about print as a medium as we are, its dynamism and its permanence. It’s tactile and tangible, worth its weight in gold.”

But while the culture at McKellar Renown is open, fresh and bold, and the delivery channels are digital as well as analogue, often a hybrid, and increasingly integrated into cross-media, the reputation is for premium-quality print, as it has been from the beginning.

The formula has paid off, and the company was the toast of this year’s National Print Awards, snaring two gold medals (for booklets and for digital printing) and the Heidelberg and Fuji Xerox sponsor awards. That followed the bagging of four PICAs in the Victorian awards last year.

Brought up in print

Ask this trio exactly when each began at McKellar Renown and there’s much discussion. As with many family firms, it just happened. Each of them added to their workloads in the past decade – and each has memories of working at the firm in their youth, doing folding and collating.

“Every one of us has had a handful of different roles – with machinery, office work, production,” says Kerrie.

“Or putting labels on 40,000 packets of coffee beans,” quips Chris.

“We finished school and went on to further studies, working here part-time,” adds Adam. “Between us, we have studied design, commerce, fashion, music, filmmaking and nutrition.”

Adam joined the company’s estimating department in 2002, Chris started up in earnest in 2003, and Kerrie began after her Victorian Certificate of Education in 2005. “We’ve all ended up doing different things and have found our niche,” says Kerrie. “And each one of us acts as another pair of eyes on one another’s projects,” adds Chris.

Hands-on approach

Through a supply-chain partner in IT, the company has added a custom-developed management information system. It has also begun exploring web-to-print ordering, although most of its projects are the kind that involve detailed and patient planning at face-to-face meetings with agency reps, rather than just mouse-clicks, says Kerrie.

“I like to be involved at the very start of a project, rather than somewhere down the track where clients are advanced with a particular idea.”

The greatest technological milestone was the expansion into digital sheetfed some years ago. “Steve was out on the road a lot in sales, and was open to the idea,” says Chris. “John was initially concerned about managing clients’ expectations on digital quality.”

Today, a Xerox Colour 800/1000 and a C700 sit alongside two Heidelberg Speedmasters (a full-sheet and a half-sheet press), and two Heidelberg Cylinders and a Platen, which are riding the revival in boutique letterpress.

“When digital first began here, it was a mindset change,” says Chris. “Digital was always associated more with commodity work but, as the technology improved, over the years we’ve directed more and more jobs into digital as higher-quality niche projects.”

“Because a lot of our clients order offset and digital, it was a must for us to go digital,” says Adam. “The quality of digital is now a given and clients assume they’re getting something that closely adheres to offset. It doesn’t run at the same resolution as an imagesetter, but once you got colour management on a digital press – that’s what sold it for us.

“We’re running a 300-line screen on digital day-to-day. The ability to hit ISO colour targets with digital is just staggering compared to what it was a few years ago.” 

Chris adds: “Today, we’re making our name on R&D and process control.”

More than just certification

McKellar Renown was one of the first Australasian companies to add the Fogra ISO 12647-8 digital standard for validation print creation to its ISO 12647-2 offset accreditation. The trio is focused on the ongoing process of accreditation, aware that one-time certification is only meaningful if it is maintained.

“You’re only as good as the colour on the job. You can have all the certificates, but it’s nothing if you’re not matching colour consistently, day-to-day,” says Chris.

Offset and digital print are embraced in a Heidelberg Prinect workflow and a fully equipped bindery handles offline finishing from all three print technologies. The 800/1000 has inline finishing, but more often than not, the high-end, specialised finishing work, with differing formats and substrates in a single job, such as holography with three different foils, lends itself to manual handling. Some jobs involve up to 10 different processes, including letterpress, creasing, forme cutting and slitting.

McKellar Renown made a splash at this year’s World Stamp Expo in Melbourne. For the show, it added visitor faces to 40,000 stamps printed on its Xerox 800/1000 press. “You know it’s a family company – mum [Carol] gave up Mother’s Day to be with us on the stand,” says Chris.

The company has added variable-data print and, with support from Fuji Xerox Australia, developed a versioned DM facility for the personalised, targeted campaigns that are now in demand.

But the company’s accent remains on quality. “We’re giving a new generation of designers something to look at,” says Kerrie. “A lot of them haven’t seen what can be achieved with print. They might have seen a glossy flyer in their mailbox but naturally aren’t very excited. We’re reviving the best of the craft for them. What printers forget is that young designers are extremely excited about good print. It’s something the internet generation hasn’t been brought up with.”

Designers also reflect their clients’ concern for the environment. There is a lot of misinformation about print and paper, laments Adam. “No one’s worried about the entire chain of custody. Everyone’s just concerned to be viewed as being responsible in their own immediate area.”

Chris adds: “If clients are going to spend on print today, they want to make it special. There are now more finishes, more embellishments and more print processes than ever before.

“We’re using a lot of skills handed down by previous generations, but we’re the new eyes. Our feet are very much planted in both past and future. We’re massive print nerds; we’re excited by the technologies and what will happen next. And we work with really creative clients.”




Established 1946

Staff Around 40

Based Carnegie, Melbourne

Sectors High-end specialty printing, DM campaigns



Business briefing

• The Norgates are a fourth-generation printing family

• Charlie Norgate was a linotype operator; his son Ray, acquired McKellar Press in 1946

• In 1962, the company installed its first offset equipment in the form of Heidelberg K-line presses

• In 1973, Ray’s son, Steve, joined his elder brother, John, and the family purchased Renown Press in Carnegie. McKellar Renown Press was born

• Three members of the next generation now play key roles in the family business – Steve’s children, Chris and Kerrie, and John’s son, Adam

• Quality is a big focus and McKellar Renown was one of the first Australasian companies to add the ISO 12647 for digital print alongside its ISO 12647 for offset

• McKellar Renown is also focused on targeted, personalised work, including variable-data direct mail on its Fuji Xerox 800/1000; and it also recently produced 40,000 personalised stamps at the World Stamp Expo

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