97 years.
That’s a lot of Lives in Motion.

Since our founding in 1926, the Wills Group and our family of companies have been committed to providing outstanding service and products at fair prices. Our renewed purpose – Lives in Motion – builds on our legacy and the accomplishments, milestones, and achievements marked throughout our first 97 years.

A series of firsts.


Our founders, two engineers from La Plata, Maryland, Jim Wills and Harold Swann, established a pattern of growth early on that would continue from the company’s inception until present. We’ve been proud at the Wills Group to celebrate many firsts that have helped us stay at the top of our game year-over-year.


The leaders of the company, recognizing the contributions of employees, announced a Profit Sharing Plan that became effective December 11, 1953. Southern Maryland Oil, Inc. was the first company in the State of Maryland to incorporate such a program, whereby employees received, through a deferred plan, a portion of the profits at year-end for retirement purposes.


Foreseeing some drastic and imminent changes within our industry toward modern marketing techniques, SMO developed the first branded self-service station in the State of Maryland. This was our Forest Drive location in Annapolis, Maryland, and because of its popularity, many more were added to our network of retail stations.


May 1 saw the opening of the first full-size Dash In Food Store on Route 198 in Laurel. The company’s tradition of leadership continued, as this was the first convenience store in Maryland with an in-store foodservice program featuring fried chicken and potato wedges. The design of the Laurel store helped set the tone for the innovative prototype design created the following year, a design that was carried out in new Dash In facilities.

A history of giving.


The company completed a major corporate brand refresh effort in 2016. This resulted in a new brand identity for the Wills Group and a renewed purpose for our next decade: Lives in Motion. The new Wills Group brand identity informs a renewed effort to build an employer brand, supporting ongoing employee recruitment efforts and professional development. The announcement also included a broader commitment to Community Engagement, which included the creation of the Blackie Wills Community Leadership Fund. 


In June, we then hosted the community and our partners at our new headquarters. The “Here for Good” event celebrated our commitment to the La Plata community along with our expanded commitment to community engagement across the Mid-Atlantic region.


2020 was a remarkable year as we, and the entire world, adjusted to the challenges of a global pandemic. Our commitment to community engagement only increased over the course of the year with the Wills Group providing $500,000 in unrestricted grants to four regional food banks and three Southern Maryland non-profit organizations.


The Wills Group continued its commitment to community engagement, distributing another $500,000 in grants to regional food banks to help families in need. The Wills Group community engagement effort also expanded to focus on Enhancing Outdoor Spaces, with the first project taking place at the Edgewood Library in La Plata.

Leadership & growth.


The years of 1957-1962 were both tragic and prosperous. They were tragic in the sense that we suffered a striking blow when our president James W. Wills tragically, lost his life in an automobile accident. He was succeeded as president by his wife, Julia B. Wills. Julia Wills was ahead of her time as there were few women leading businesses during that era. The company’s continued growth during her tenure is a testament to her courage and leadership. Julia was a source of inspiration to employees, both past and present.


Our founder’s son, J. Blacklock “Blackie” Wills Sr., was appointed president of the company in August, succeeding his mother, Julia Wills. He served as president until he retired in 1988 but remained as Board Chairman through 1998. His tenure was marked by rapid growth and an entrepreneurial spirit, successfully overcoming challenges across the oil industry.


Blackie Wills retired as President, and remained Chairman for another ten years. He was succeeded as President by his son, J. Blacklock “Lock” Wills Jr., who perpetuated – and even accelerated – the long-established pattern of growth, customer service, and stewardship.


Chairman, President and CEO, J. Blacklock “Lock” Wills Jr., retired in March and remains Executive Chairman. He was succeeded by his son, Julian B. “Blackie” Wills III as President and Chief Operating Officer. The announcement was informed by a disciplined approach on the part of the Wills Group to ensure a smooth succession of leadership. The announcement also made clear our ongoing commitment to the Wills Group’s renewed focus to expand its retail lines of business, including Dash In, Splash In ECO Car Wash, and SMO Motor Fuels.

Interested in learning more about our history?
Download the Wills Group History Book here.