Savannah, Ga.-based Colonial Group, owner of the Enmarket convenience store chain, celebrated 100 years in business on July 21, as representatives of the family-owned company unveiled a historical marker in cooperation with the Georgia Historical Society (GHS) on the site of Colonial’s first service station in Savannah’s historic district, at 342 Drayton St.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson proclaimed July 21, as Colonial Group Day in the city. The occasion was also observed by Georgia State Sen. Ben Watson, of District 1, who sponsored a Georgia Senate Resolution recognizing Colonial Group for having grown from its “humble beginnings in July 1921 to become one of the leading businesses in the state.”
“When my great grandfather, Raymond McAllister Demere, returned to Savannah after serving in World War I, he saw the popularity of the automobile increasing along with the demand for automotive fuel,” said Colonial Group President and CEO Christian Demere. “He purchased a 55-gallon barrel of oil and founded Savannah’s first independent wholesale petroleum company on July 21, 1921.”
Christian Demer explained that, two years later, his grandfather opened his first service station in Savannah and from there, what would become Colonial Group’s diverse family of companies was born out of the growing demand for petroleum products and the evolution that ensued.
Representing third and fourth generations of the family-owned business, Demere, along with his father, Chairman Robert H. Demere Jr., and his brother, VP of Business Development for Colonial’s Savannah Yacht Center Houstoun Demere, unveiled the marker. They were joined by the senator and the mayor, as well as Dr. W. Todd Groce, president and CEO of the Georgia Historical Society, who also hosted the event.
The historical marker reads, in part: “Raymond McAllister Demere founded the American Oil Company on July 21, 1921, as Savannah’s first independent wholesale petroleum company, and he opened his first service station at this site in 1923. Renamed Colonial Oil in 1933, the company is now known as Colonial Group Inc.”
It also acknowledges a business that has grown to become one of America’s largest privately held companies.
“The Georgia Historical Society is pleased to recognize this iconic Georgia-based company and the lasting impact it has had on our state and nation since 1921,” said Groce. “Colonial Group’s sustained, century-long growth is testament to what can happen when you have all the right ingredients for success: great products, excellent succession planning, outstanding intergenerational leadership, and entrepreneurial vision. I am particularly excited about the classroom resources we have developed to tell the Colonial Group story to Georgia students.”
GHS created a case study and company profile about Colonial as an educational resource for Georgia middle school students, which will be available to educators beginning with the fall 2021 school year.
As the company prepared to observe its 100th anniversary in 2021, its leadership was encouraged to research and document its history and create an archive of those findings. A historian and local writers worked with many of Colonial’s employees and retirees to develop a book about the company’s first 100 years. The project is expected to be finalized by the end of the year.
Additionally, Colonial Group commissioned a commemorative logo that will be used for several years to observe the company’s centennial of service.