Seven over 70: Richard Downie

This article was first published in the November 2020 issue of Australian Printer magazine

Richard Downie is a name that many in the industry know. Currently aged almost 82, he started Kosdown Printing in late 1981 and together with his family, has built the business into a state-of-the-art pre-press, printing, digital printing and production and mailing house.  

Having been in operation for almost 40 years, the business is now run by his children – Derek Downie, David Downie, and Sandra Downie – while Richard is semi-retired.

Richard, together with his wife Maureen and three children, were Scottish immigrants. Having immigrated to Australia in 1966, he first worked in the steel industry in Sydney and lived in an immigration hostel for the first two years.

“I arrived from Scotland with my wife, three kids – Derek was seven years old, David was five and Sandra was just six months old – and two suitcases. I had a young family, so I was always looking for a better job to better provide for them,” Richard said.

Richard heard that the pay was slightly better in Melbourne so he made the move with his family and got a job in a printing company as a labouring assistant on a printing press. That was his first foray into the print world. He then became a guillotine operator at another printer even though he had no guillotine experience.  

“I moved around in a few jobs and also juggled part-time jobs – I used to be a cleaner at night after fulfilling my duties at my day job to make ends meet. My wife had a part-time job at a dry cleaner’s before she worked full-time at a factory. We both had ambition to create a better life for our family,” he said.

Richard then landed a job at Bradford Printing as a guillotine operator and moved up the ranks into production, then manager.

“I was working eight to 12 hours a day and was there for 10 years before Maureen got homesick and we decided to move back to Scotland. I worked at a paper mill in Scotland, working night shifts. But not long after, we decided to return to Australia as that wasn’t the life for us,” he said.

Richard returned to the same role at Bradford Printing, where he was for another 10 years, before ambitiously deciding to strike out on his own and start Kosdown Printing in 1981. He partnered with a colleague, Kosta Petratos, and with both their holiday payouts combined, opened up the new company in the suburb of Richmond – ‘Kos-down’ is a conjunction of their names.

It was a family affair from the start. Parents and children put their houses up as collateral to get the business going. After two years in the business, Petratos decided to be bought out as an owner but continued on with Kosdown as a full-time staff for another 25 years before his retirement. 

“The early days at Kosdown were hard. The first press that we got was a two-colour, second hand Dominant press. We couldn’t afford a folding machine or anything else so had the kids in after school to give us a hand. They were involved in the business from the start even though they ended up working in independent jobs for a while,” Richard said.

“But they all ended up working at Kosdown, along with Maureen and my nephew, who I brought from Scotland to Australia 28 years ago when he was just 18. Now, three of my grandsons are in the business full-time too.”

Kosdown had in place a barter-trade arrangement with its then neighbor, Debden Diaries, to provide the company with paper in exchange for some office furniture. The company grew thanks to word of mouth and the opportunity to rent a part of Debden Diaries’ facility in Port Melbourne arose.

“I was going to go half with Debden Diaries in exchange for print, but that deal fell over and it never eventuated. We still took the plunge and moved in,” Richard said.

That was almost 35 years ago. At the end of 2012, the firm relocated to Rocklea Drive. Then Maureen’s health took a turn in 2014, so Richard semi-retired to spend time with his wife and the company relocated to its new home on the other side of Port Melbourne.

Derek, David and Sandra have led the business since.

“The principles at Kosdown today is the same as what it was yesterday – it was (and still is) all about hard work and honesty. It’s also about providing good service. Within the business, my children always kept me up-to-date with the latest in technology and we always made the investment if there was room for efficiencies. I never worried about what anyone else was doing,” he said.

“My motivation has always been my family, and over time, my long-term clients and staff have become like family too. Kosdown, to others, may just be a company name but to me, it’s a member of my family.”

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