After having finished a tour of duty in the U.S. Navy as an Aviation Radioman during WWI, and furthering his education at Vanderbilt University and DePaul University, Eugene W. Graham, Sr. began his career in the petroleum business.
His first venture was to build and operate a service station on Chicago’s west side, along with his future brother-in-law, Emmett O’Connor. Together they operated the station until they sold it for a then sizable profit. O’Connor went on to the ice cream business and, later, the dry cleaning business and Graham signed on in 1922 with Sinclair Refining Co. as a retail territory representative. He advanced through the ranks quickly and became Division Manager in charge of Sinclair’s Bulk Plant.
Pictured: Eugene W. Graham
The Growth And Expansion
In 1955, he was joined by his son, Gene, Jr. and, in 1960, by another son, Jack. Gene, Jr. and Jack later became partners when Graham, Sr. retired in 1970 having taken the business from 500,000 gallons per year to 6,000,000. Gene and Jack continued with the business as partners until 1995, at which time the volume had expanded to 30,000,000 gallons per year. Gene, Jr. retired in 1996, the partnership was dissolved, and two separate corporations were formed.
Graham Enterprise, Inc. (GEI) – From Inception to the Future
In 1990, Graham Enterprise Inc. was formed. It purchased its first independent service station in Mt. Prospect, Illinois and shortly thereafter added one in McHenry. That was up until 1995 when it made a larger expansion and purchased half of the interest in Graham Oil Co. From that point forward a focused effort was made into redeveloping the car wash operations that existed in McHenry and in Libertyville. Since then, a total of 14 car washes have been built to a standard that differed from what the typical gasoline station car wash had offered. The new model station had more pumps with a concerted effort in customer service featuring 2 cash registers to handle business more efficiently; and a car wash tunnel that was 100 feet long with plenty of equipment to deal with up to 100 cars per hour. Just one of the many strategies which GEI employed to differentiate itself from the competition.
The customer service mantra for the organization going forward: “We Care” which is supported with a state of the art training program.
GEI currently has a number of sites under development with plans to usher the new year in with a rebranding initiative designed to invigorate the sites. They have come a long way from those early years when they generated 600k gallons and produced a net profit of $400 annually.
Success and Partnerships
The subsequent exponential growth has resulted in GEI having branded relationships with BP; Citgo, Marathon, Shell and ExxonMobil representing 250MM gallons of product across four channels of trade including 37 Company Owned & Operated Sites; 14 Commission Marketers; +125 Dealer Owned & Dealer Operated; and 3 Company Owned and Dealer Operated sites placing GEI among the largest family owned branded distributors in the US.