When Marvin and Jennifer Rack decided it was time to retire from their printing business after 38 years, they didn’t have far to look for someone they believed could continue the service their customers have come to expect.
On Friday, Josh Zweifel, an employee of the Racks for 22 years at Northwestern Printers, 120 W. Ninth, welcomed the public to an open house as the new owner and to celebrate the company's 38th anniversary.
Employees and the Racks were on hand throughout each of the five storefronts the business now occupies to demonstrate the equipment that can print, collate and bind just about any job from vinyl signs to mailers and desk calendars.
“He is probably the closest representation to me that I’ve ever encountered. He is me 20 years ago,” Rack said of Zweifel.
“We’ve pestered him the last couple, three years, and he finally gave in,” Rack said.
Zweifel said purchasing the company was something he and Rack had talked about, but he didn’t give it serious thought until this year.
“This past spring, he said ‘I’m not going to ask anymore. I want you to buy it if you want to buy it,’” Zweifel said.
When he looked at the numbers, he realized it was something he could do, even though he’d always had the notion that if he and his family left Hays, it would be to help run the family farm near Waldo. But his father said he still enjoyed running the farm.
“I decided to go ahead and move forward with this,” Zweifel said.
One thing the two men have in common is that neither set out to own a printing business. Rack started out with an office supply company, while Zweifel came to Fort Hays State University to get a degree in elementary education.
When the employees of a nearly bankrupt print shop in Hays all quit in 1981, Rack would spend his evenings printing jobs for his office supply customers. The other salesmen asked him to do the same for their clients.
“Before I knew it, I was printing all night long. And you know, it was fun. It was like going out and partying all night. It was so much fun,” he said.
After about a month, Rack purchased the print shop, and even though it was just one of about six in Hays at the time, Northwestern Printers steadily grew. It wasn’t easy, though, Rack said.
In 1983, the business purchased the building at 114 W. Ninth.
“That was such a big move. It was so rough at the beginning, I had to move out of my house and move back in with my parents so I wouldn’t lose my house. I rented my house out,” he said.
Rack followed a similar formula as the printing business grew. In 1983 and then in 1987, as adjacent buildings went up for sale, Northwestern Printers purchased them and used part of them for storage and rented the rest of the space with the rent covering the loan payments for a couple years, then expanding into the space.
When Liberty Foursquare Church, which had been in 120 W. Ninth, moved, Northwestern Printers made its latest purchase and space expansion.
“We knew things were going a lot better and we knew we were going to need a lot more room,” Rack said.
“We’ve just been so lucky, so blessed to have things happen when they needed to happen,” he said.
That worked for Zweifel, too, who started working for the Racks part-time as a college student. He left for a semester for his student teaching, but asked to come back even though his job had been filled.
Rack put him to work in the press department.
“I said ‘If I don’t get a teaching job, is it all right if I stay?” Zweifel said. “He said ‘I hope you don’t get a teaching job.’”
Over the years, Zweifel has worked in every department of the business.
“It’s definitely not something I would want to do if I knew nothing about it,” he said of his becoming the owner. “There’s so many different aspects to a print shop and the services that we provide.”
For now, those services won’t see much change, Zweifel said.
“It’s a successful business and I don’t want to derail that in any way — the quality that we provide, the turnaround time that we provide and the customer service,” he said.
“I don’t think we ever would have found anybody more perfect than Josh” to sell the business to, Rack said.
One change Zweifel does hope to implement within the next few years is to give Northwestern Printers more of an online presence for customers outside of Hays. Online templates to allow customers to design business cards and invitations are one option he’s looking at.
He noted that in his time with Northwestern Printers, more and more business had gone out the back door through the mail than in customers’ hands through the front door.
“I don’t want to be a Vista Print by any means, but I want to be able to serve northwest Kansas,” he said.
“If he changes anything, it will be for the good,” Rack said.
Since August, the Racks have made themselves available to Zweifel and the employees to help in the transition, but the time they’ve spent at the shop has decreased, Rack said.
But he and Jennifer don’t have big plans for retirement. They have one child still in high school and three in college, and will focus on some of the things they wanted to do that they couldn’t while running a business.
“We’ve got a big long list of things that we want to accomplish, just like remodeling the house, taking care of the yard and things like that. Now we can actually do it and enjoy it,” he said.