Girl Scout cookie sales provide business lessons

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 139 views 

One hundred years ago, the first Girl Scout troop was formed when Juliette Low organized 18 young women in her Savannah, Ga., home.

Needless to say, the idea caught on.

Today, Girl Scouts boast 3.2 million participants in the U.S. and there are troops in more than 90 countries worldwide. There are roughly 12,200 members and 5,000 volunteers in the 6 Arkansas regions serving Girl Scouts, according to its website.

In Arkansas and surrounding states, the non-profit continues to develop its mission of influencing girls in business, science and math — critical study areas to maintain U.S. leadership and disciplines that will hopefully lead to eventual employment.

The Girl Scouts are rooted in skills programming that involves the Three C’s — cooking, camping, and crafts — but they may best be known for the fourth C: cookies.

Cookie sales didn’t begin for the Girl Scouts until 1917, and today, it is a $760 million business for the organization. Not only are the cookies pretty irresistible, but so is the sales force and its mission.

“It’s a cookie with a meaning and that just furthers the reason to purchase them,” says Jennifer Bickers, communications director for the Girl Scouts Diamonds of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

She says the combination of two factors — one, they’re a quality product, and two, they go to a good cause — makes them successful.

“It has meaning. When you purchase Girl Scout cookies, you’re doing something good,” she says.

Those Do-si-dos, Thin Mints, and Tagalongs do much more than make Girl Scouts feel good about selling them. They are an investment in programming, such as camps or community projects.

At $3.50 a box, 46% of cookie sales go into programming, such as event and camp fees, as well as subsidies to keep those programs low-cost. Some of the income is used for maintenance and improvements at existing camps.

About 26% of cookie sales go to manufacturing and marketing, such as printed materials and order forms. Another 11% is for management expenses and corporate overhead.

The final 17% is troop profit, which can be used in a variety of ways.

Troops may use the money for future events and outings. Some put their profits in “cookie bucks,” which can be redeemed by Girl Scouts for camp fees or in the Girl Scout shop. A lot of troops use their profits for community outreach.

Angela Tilley, a long-time leader of Cadet Troop 4115 and Brownie Troop 4372 in Fort Smith, says her scouts have brainstormed on how to spend their profits from cookie sales in a variety of unique ways.

Her troops have put money toward the Single Parent Scholarship Fund and used money to make fleece blankets — one of their crafts — delivering them to an elderly day care center.

Not only are they learning philanthropy, they’re developing business skills important for life.

“What I have found in cookie selling is they don’t realize they’re learning business skills until later. Then it clicks,” Tilley says.

She rattles off a litany of business acumen developed by the experience, including making elevator speeches, face-to-face sales, looking people in the eye, and closing the deal.

“It’s very important to have that confidence,” said Tilley, who mentions that cookie sales are “real good for upselling” too.

Her group of 18 Girl Scouts and 10 Brownies will sell close to 5,000 boxes of cookies this year. Other business intangibles include budgeting, inventory control, and product display when they organize their booth at a local Walmart store.

Tilley says she limits door-to-door sales in this day and age, keeping the neighborhood pitches to people she knows.

Bickers says that the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouts created an event opportunity to acknowledge “women of impact” — female role models in successful careers for younger scouts to emulate.

Some of the Arkansas women who will be honored at a program this April include Sandy Edwards, Deputy Director of Museum Relations at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville; Dr. Faye Cox, Executive Director of The Woman’s Discovery Center in Jonesboro; and Judy McReynolds, President & CEO of Arkansas Best Corp. in Fort Smith.

Also, Bickers says in recent years the nonprofit has really taken environmental stewardship to heart with new initiatives because it so closely aligns with the group’s long-standing work.

A “Forever Green” program underscores environmental awareness and how each individual scout can impact nature.

From February through April, Girl Scouts are undertaking a variety of projects that involve reducing plastic waste to conserving energy to understanding the ecosystem through rain gardens.

“There’s some pretty advanced stuff going on in Girl Scouts right now in terms of thinking globally, but acting locally,” she said. “Today’s Girl Scouts are putting plans in action to make the world a better place.”