In just four years, Walmart expanded its emerging fuel operation from 10 to 400 gas and convenience locations. Initially, there was only one person who was tasked with spearheading this growth as her sole responsibility. Meet Heather Clark, whose role was to not only develop the new line of business for the superstore powerhouse, but also find a way to grow the business at the speed of an organization that prides itself on the ability to think big. Clark says it was a master class in working cross-functionally and in learning to lead a team whose scope was much larger than just the fuel business.
The senior director of fuel development and construction admittedly knew nothing about fuel before taking on her role, but is now also overseeing development, construction, marketing, prototype design, maintenance and repairs, and a whole slew of other responsibilities that she has learned on the fly and from a team that she says she couldn’t be successful without.
Clark says she loves being challenged, and it’s a good thing, as she continues to demonstrate a willingness to take on roles for which her own experience is somewhat limited. The senior director has spent the entirety of her career thus far at Walmart but in a scope of incredibly varied roles. After realizing that transactional work on the real estate side wasn’t for her, she elected to continue her theme of learning by doing and take a leap into construction project management. “I had zero experience leading people, working in construction, or project management,” Clark notes with a laugh. “But I learned that I loved leading people and seeing the tangible impact we were making on the business.”
The company noticed Clark’s propensity for being a fast learner, and ultimately asked for her assistance getting Walmart deeper into the fuel and convenience business. “That’s one of the amazing things about working here,” Clark says. “If you work hard and prove yourself, the leadership will give you a chance to do almost anything.”
As the sole individual dedicated to the buildout, Clark had to find expertise wherever she could, which meant borrowing resources from all different parts of the company, ranging from merchandising to operations to HR. The tough part, she recalls, was that the people involved were already engrossed in their primary roles with scales and scopes that were much larger than launching this new, smaller line of business.
While Clark says the business had to learn from mistakes early on, the 10-to-400 ballooning of fuel and convenience locations is an unmitigated victory for the director. It also led to Clark being asked to take on design and construction for the two largest Walmart format fuel stations in Crowley, Texas, and Rogers, Arkansas. “We did everything from selecting the sites to designing the prototypes to developing the internal and external features, and working to greatly expand our customer offerings,” Clark says. “We created a whole new way of working due to all the changes we wanted to implement.”
Six months is generally the time it might take to agree on potential blueprints, cobble together a team, or narrow down location sites. Six months for Clark was the length of time from initial impetus to move forward with the project to the opening of these two super-convenience locations. The director isn’t particularly fazed by the shocking speed of execution, only complimentary of the “army” of people that it took to make it happen. “It took a lot of very dedicated people pushing as hard as they could,” Clark says. “We continue to learn from this, and it has taught us more than we thought was possible about running a convenience store.”
Clark says that after the blitz of expansion, the organization is now working to better customize its offerings for locations that are virtually everywhere in America. “Montana and South Texas don’t have the same tastes, so we’re working to tailor our offerings to the region and better serve our customers,” Clark says. It’s also meant not only adjusting the fuel marketing program but creating it––and going public. “For the first two years, we weren’t really even telling people that we’re in the fuel business, so now we’re trying to get the word out about what we do and how great of a value our customers can get by shopping with us.”
As Clark continues to grow into her new responsibilities, she says she’s currently staffed with the best team she’s ever had. “Great teamwork makes me happier than almost anything else,” Clark admits. “My team fills in gaps even if it’s not their responsibility or area of expertise.” It’s essential for an organization that continues to develop increasingly diverse lines of business, and Clark’s own capacity to do just about anything seems to be contagious.
While the director says no one at Walmart spends too much time dwelling on past success, she is incredibly proud any time she sees customers entering a space that she has helped create. “There’s really nothing comparable to the experience of walking into a station or store and seeing customers interact with what you’ve tried to give them.”