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Vending firm acquires competitor

Companies have long family histories in local business

DIXON – Two longtime Dixon vending businesses are now one.

Arch Vending Inc., a full-line vendor of beverages, snacks, sandwiches and other foods, has completed its acquisition of Walter C. Knack Co.

The deal was finalized in late October, but it had been done gradually. Two of the six Knack employees will move to Arch Vending.

Owner Kevin Knack said the family was "just ready" to exit the business after 35 years of long hours in a challenging business.

"Kevin had been downsizing for a while, and we had been buying the routes, little by little," Arch Vending owner Bob Wegner said. Wegner said the families know each other well, and that the competition between them was always friendly.

"Kevin and I were both Jefferson [Elementary School] Jets," Wegner said. "We have been friends all our lives, even while we were competitors."

Both companies have long family histories in the Dixon business community, making it important to all involved that Walter C. Knack remain locally run.

Walter C. Knack Sr. started the company in 1922 as a tobacco wholesaler. It later became a general wholesaler, and from the mid-1950s until 1969 was a wholesaler-vending hybrid. The firm decided to operate strictly as a vending machine company in 1969, according to Kevin Knack.

Kevin's father, Walter C. Knack Jr., died in 1991. Kevin, a brother and two sisters had run the business since the 1980s. Sister Karla sold out of the business about 15 years ago and now runs Flowers Etc. in Dixon. Kevin and brother Kenyon still are helping the Wegners with the transition.

Bob's father, Ray Wegner, started Arch Vending in 1972 with Bill Burrs. Ray entered the vending business back in 1960 with Canteen, now the nation's largest vending company. He was there with Mike Schrauth for 7 years before joining Schrauth when he left to start Sauk Valley Vendors.

Bob started in the business when he was 19, and bought out his brother Greg 8 years ago, when Greg went back to teaching science at Roosevelt Alternative High School in Rockford.

At 80, Ray still comes to the Arch Vending office every day. After 53 years in the business, he still thinks retirement might be overrated.

"I've always enjoyed getting up early and going to work," Ray said. "I enjoy helping my youngest son as best I can."

Ray says he doesn't think the business has changed all that much.

"It's still about giving good service and treating people nice," he said. "It's tougher to do that when you get too big."

Both Bob Wegner and Knack agree that the vending business is a tough one.

"It's a fine line to be profitable," Wegner said. "The economy has been tough the last 5 to 7 years, and vending in particular has been pressured by the high costs of food and gas."

"Margins are much lower in vending than they used to be," Knack said. "Everything has gone high tech, and it's costing more money."

While Knack says selling a business that has such a long family history is difficult, he has mixed emotions.

"I'm sad and happy," Knack said. "I'm glad that the business is going to a local vendor; people here will get better service than from people coming in from Chicago. It also helps to know that I might not have to work 14-hour days anymore."

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