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ROCKFORD, Ill. – In 1926, Walt Williamson and his partner Nate Kelley were able to go into the oil and lubrication business only because a competitor reportedly put up the money for them to affiliate with the then-Socony Oil Co. Today, Williamson's grandson John Griffin heads Kelley Williamson Oil Co., the oldest U.S. distributor of Mobil Oil products, according to a Rockland Star report.
"My grandfather was driving a taxicab when he and Kelley bought this company," Griffin told the news outlet. "I don't know why they decided to get into the oil business, but here we are today."
These days, Kelley Williamson's gas stations sell food, beverages and snacks in the attached Kelley Markets instead of the tires, batteries and lubrication products of yesteryear. All but two of its approximately 50 locations in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin have convenience stores. The company also sells wholesale gasoline to 38 northern Illinois locations and distributes lubricants to dealers and other businesses that replaced the old-fashioned service stations, according to the report.
Kelley Markets have doubled in size from 2,000-square-foot locations to 4,000 square feet and up, and advanced technologically as well. "Everything is done by computer now," said 32-year veteran Bob Sanders, who runs the company's retail operations. "We used to do the same thing with paper and pencil."
Like Sanders, many of Kelley Williamson's 530 employees have put in more than 15 years of loyal service. The company also offers loyalty to customers in the form of various programs, such as a partnership with Schnucks grocery stores that allows shoppers to earn fuel discounts.
In the past, Kelley Williamson has included CITGO and Phillips 66 stations under its banner, but today it is completely Mobil-branded. The company prefers to buy properties and construct new-build stores, although it has occasionally grown through acquisitions.
Griffin is the third president in the company's history, following Williamson and his successor Dorian Fisher. Griffin started out with the company at 12 years old, sweeping and doing other odd jobs before making it into sales by 1974. He became president following Fisher's retirement in 1990.
Griffin, who said he has done everything there is to do at the company except drive a gasoline truck, expressed pride in the third-generation family business and its community efforts. These include heavy involvement in the nonprofit behaviorial health organization Rosecrance, primary sponsorship of the local breast cancer walk, annual Christmas support of the Salvation Army, and affiliation with various other organizations such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
The company's high scores in the ExxonMobil mystery shopper competition is another point of pride. "We've had the highest score every month for 10 years," Griffin said. "We've had a high score of 97.7 percent and we average 96 percent. We're very proud of the pride we have in cleanliness and service."