NEW YORK – It’s that time of year — girls in green frocks are setting up card tables outside of grocery stores across the nation to tempt you with a variety of cookies that are easy on the wallet and harsh on the thighs.
Yes, it’s Girl Scout cookie season. And while the operation run by 10-year-olds may seem innocent enough, it netted a reported $400 million with the sale of more than 200 million boxes in 2005, according to a recent news article.
While many girls still rely on the tried and true methods of selling cookies — that is, hitting up family members and parents’ colleagues for sales — some councils are getting more business savvy.
Although National Council Communications Director Marion Swan would not divulge the financial details behind the cookie empire, she said part of their success is due to the girls’ entrepreneurship.
The set-up seems fairly open ended. Troops can run sales anywhere from October to April (most choose the spring months) and order their cookies from one of two pre-ordained bakeries that offer the most basic (and popular) varieties as well as several unique varieties.
Swan says about 70 percent of the profits stay inside a troop’s cookie coffers.
“A portion even trickles down to the individual troops so girls get money management experience of deciding how to spend the money,” Swan said.
Individual troops typically decide what they want to do with the cookie profits and then determine how many boxes they need to sell to hit that target. Cookie prices are set by each council and vary as much as $2.50 to $4 a box.
Then it’s up to the girls to strategize a plan to hit their targets.
The modern scout uses technology to take care of business. The girls write proposals and prepare Power Point presentations to pitch their ideas to local businesses.
“Obviously the world has changed a lot,” Swan said. “The girls are getting a lot more savvy in terms of that stuff, so we want the program to fit their needs.”
The New York Times even reported last year that a smattering of cookie sales was happening online — on eBay.
But that’s not to say some business strategy smarts can’t be derived from the tried and true selling practices of yore.
Stephany Samuels, now 26 and living in Manhattan, said years ago she used networking to peddle her pastries when she was selling cookies as a Girl Scout in Newton, Mass.
Not only would she have her mother and father take her sales sheet to their offices, she’d go one step further to scour their Rolodexes for possible sales.
The result? “I was always a top competitor,” said Samuels, who confesses to being a fan of Samoas, also called Caramel Delights.
And what’s the deal with the names? If you’ve moved in the last few years, you’ve probably noticed that, depending on where you live, the cookies carry a different moniker.
That’s because there are two national bakeries and there are two naming conventions for the most popular cookies, which are, in order of popularity: 1) Thin Mints; 2) Carmel DeLights, aka Samoas; 3) Peanut Butter Patties, aka Tagalongs; 4) Peanut Butter Sandwiches, aka Do-Si-Dos and 5) Classic Shortbreads, aka Trefoils.
But back to business — Jennifer Hageman, a 27-year-old engineer in West Lafayette, Ind., learned some years ago that cold calling could be a bit scary: She used to be terrified of going door-to-door when she was a Scout in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
“It was actually horrifying,” Hageman said. “It was kind of like trick or treating, but it was more of a competition.”
Another business lesson learned with cookies? Bribery.
A friend recently asked Hageman to be in her wedding as the maid of honor, and along with the request came a box of Girl Scout cookies.
Did it work? “Totally,” Hageman said.