Education
4:02 pm
Mon March 17, 2014

What the Girl Scouts can teach you about business

For a few weeks every year, Girl Scouts are selling cookies everywhere, from your front door to your office to your grocery store. And you know you can't help but buy at least one box.

On a recent chilly Columbia weekend, several Girl Scout troops were out peddling their famous cookies in front of stores throughout the city.

They stood in groups behind tables covered with brightly colored packages of cookies, from the ever-popular green-boxed Thin Mints to this year’s new Cranberry Citrus Crisps, wrapped in fuchsia foil.

As shoppers walked or wheeled by, some of the girls called out to pitch their sales. Some wore fabric signs with pictures of popular cookies.

Maggie Flagg, 5, even had a song to sing:

“Girl Scout Cookies, Girl Scout Cookies, are the best, are the best. You should really buy some, you should really buy some, yes you should, yes you should."

Behind all the bright colors and cute songs are some serious sales strategies. For one, Girl Scouts know how to have fun while doing business.

Delaney Tevis, 16, was selling cookies with Maggie. She said that having fun and bringing a positive attitude can make sales more successful.

"The best thing is just to be motivated and be happy, because if you’re excited and you’re cheering and singing songs or dancing or whatever, people are gonna, like, be more inclined to buy cookies from you than if you’re complaining about the cold weather," she said.

Although they only sell for less than three months per year, Girl Scouts sell almost $800 million in cookies annually, according to Girl Scouts of the USA. So how do they do it?

Mark Swanson teaches strategic writing at the University of Missouri. He said Girl Scouts have covered the four p’s of marketing: price, place, product and promotion.

He says the $4-per-box price is a bit steep, but the cookies are good and the money goes to a good cause. The cookies are sold right at your front door; that's a convenient place. The product is tasty and packaged well. And though people typically think of promotion as TV commercials or print ads, the Girl Scouts take a more personal approach.

“Another form of advertising is just one-to-one selling, one-to-one communication,” he said. “And there’s nothing more personal than a 12-year-old girl at your doorstep saying, 'Would you like to buy some cookies?'”

Swanson also said Girl Scout Cookies are an iconic brand, like Harley-Davidson or Starbucks.

“When a Girl Scout knocks on your door and she’s selling cookies, no one scratches their head and says, ‘What are you doing and why are you selling cookies?’” he said. “It’s a known, recognized brand that everyone has come to love. And that is the aspiration of many brands.”

Girl Scouts have the advantage of selling a product that people already love, but they still have to go out and sell the cookies.

Tracy Landau is owner and president of MarketPlace, an agency that works in the food marketing industry in St. Louis. She said selling Girl Scout Cookies teaches young girls about sales skills. They learn to understand the features and benefits of their products, which is something that adults working in her industry also have to learn.

“I think it helps kids look at products differently in that way,” she said. “They would never think of that if they weren’t trying to sell them because they have to be in the position of then talking about the cookies.”

The Girl Scouts selling cookies in Columbia had plenty of sales secrets to offer based on their own experiences.

Isabella Garfias, 12, stressed the importance of being friendly.

“The secret is just to greet them and just make them feel welcome, and to buy cookies, just, like, start talking to them and don’t stay quiet or be shy because then they won’t really be interested to buy cookies,” she said.

Several girls, including 12-year-old Emma Burton, mentioned a package deal they’ve learned to offer when selling the $4 boxes of cookies.

“You always upscale your product,” Burton said. “You give things that could be, like, deals, you're really just kind of stating the obvious. Like, we often say 5 boxes for $20, that's the same price as usual, it makes it easy, they don't have to worry about change.”

Big business tips aside, many of the girls kept circling back to the basics. Be friendly. Be outgoing. Be polite. And always say thank you.