For the Spring 2023 Issue’s Career Center column, we feature an interview with Heather Hearn, senior security advisor at Wawa. We chose to highlight Heather’s career journey as she has a long and successful tenure with a c-store organization. Heather’s path may sound familiar to some, and, at the same time, we wanted to expose our readers to a dynamic and growing business. Wawa will open its 1000th store this spring and plans significant growth over the next decade. In an era of inflation, layoffs, and uncertainty, c-stores seem like a good career bet.
STEFANIE HOOVER: The first Wawa store opened in 1964 in Pennsylvania and has somewhat of a cult following. Why do you think your customers are so passionate?
HEATHER HEARN: I truly think it’s our associates. The associates that work in our stores create personal connections with our customers, making our customers loyal to us. Each store is such a hometown place, even when we end up in new areas that we’ve never been in—it’s like home. The culture always seems to translate to the associates when they come on board. They become these brand ambassadors where they connect with and love our customers. Our former CEO, Howard Stoeckel, used to say that we were the Cheers of convenience stores, which is so true.
HOOVER: A place where everyone knows your name! Who doesn’t love that?
HEARN: Yes! We have a lot of tenure. People tend to stay because we’re living our values, and it’s awesome to be here. We call it having Goose Blood, since our symbol is the Canada Goose. The goose and geese flying in “V” formation have come to symbolize some of the very best attributes of our culture including teamwork and encouragement.
HOOVER: Makes sense to me, maybe it’s something in the coffee. Tell us about how you got started in your career and what brought you to Wawa.
HEARN: I started at Wawa while I was in college, working at our Central Station, primarily because it fit into my class schedule. My aspirations were originally law enforcement, and I debated between juvenile probation or police work. Then I was like, oh, maybe I’ll be an FBI agent or a Secret Service agent, something like that. I was in that dream realm… But once I got to Wawa, I was hooked and knew I had found where I belonged.
HOOVER: It sounds familiar Heather, most of us had really high expectations in college.
HEARN: When I started at Wawa, I had never heard of this private security industry—didn’t know that it existed—and I was able to come in and learn everything about physical security, camera systems, alarm systems, and how it all worked. We didn’t have a loss prevention department at the time, so I was in on the ground floor. All our security conversations and loss prevention conversations went through what we called the Security Committee. My boss at the time, Karen Genello, and I built our department together. It’s been fun and fulfilling being able to be in on the ground floor, build something, and watch it grow.
HOOVER: It sounds like Karen was your mentor. Can you tell me about her?
HEARN: Yes, she is amazing. Karen and I were connected via another supervisor, and we never disconnected. We were connected at the hip, built a department together, and that was about twenty-five years ago. She saw something in me, and I’m forever indebted to her.
HOOVER: Describe the setup of your program? How is your loss prevention team structured?
HEARN: Our full department is internal audit, asset protection and security, business compliance, and ERM. I report to the asset protection and security manager along with six field asset protection advisors. Directly reporting to me are an e-commerce fraud analyst who investigates e-commerce fraud and a physical security administrator who manages our access control corporately as well as handles all third-party video surveillance requests.
HOOVER: What are some of the biggest challenges your department faces with your unique 24-hour environment?
HEARN: I am not sure that any of our challenges are unique related to crime in the retail industry. We work very hard to ensure we stay current with industry standards and technology related to loss prevention and security.
HOOVER: How are you able to effectively manage such a large store count with this sized team?
HEARN: We are a well- coordinated efficient team; we maximize our resources to support the organization. More importantly, we ensure we have regular and open communication with our business partners. We pride ourselves on being responsive, collaborative, and a trusted resource. We have open exchanges on conference calls, in emails, or during one-on-one calls, so there is a lot of collaboration. As employee owners, we all want Wawa to succeed, so we make sure we stay connected with each other and win as a team.
HOOVER: And you all have that Goose Blood flowing!
HOOVER: Any advice you’d offer to someone who’s interested in a career in c-stores?
HEARN: C-stores are a great, fast-paced environment. Like any industry, there are professional associations to learn more, like the National Association of Convenience Stores. Be curious, seek out leaders, and make connections.