How Girl Scouts Made Me A Salesperson and Marketer, Kristin Johnson
So many people ask me, “How did you get plugged into sales and marketing, initially? It’s like you were born with these skills.” And I shrug my shoulders and say, “Girl Scouts, hands down.” The prober usually responds with giggles and asks for a further explanation.
This is my story…
I joined the Scouting community in first grade, at the ripe young age of six. I had brain surgery the summer prior to first grade, so it was a good idea for me to engage in non-physical activities that would still burn my never-ending energy while still making friends (a classic goal associated with Girl Scouts).
That January, we sold our first season away. While my earnings from about 150 boxes seemed meager, it was the most I had sold in my lifetime at that point – obviously. More importantly, those 150 boxes showed me how competitive I could be, and how determined I was as a person. Consistently, my sales improved, I gained new leads and accounts, and I was strategizing at the beginning of each new season how to further market the cookies.
What’s sales, though, without a few objections? One of the biggest struggles I faced, surprisingly, was the always-changing flavors. I remember selling Aloha Chips and Olé Olés that first year, All Abouts and Double Dutches throughout elementary school, and Café Cookies and Lemon Chalet Cremes in middle school. I remember when they discontinued All Abouts and I had to push other alternatives for my shortbread/chocolate buyers. Personally, one of the best sellers was the Sugar-Free Chocolate Chips, which was a game-changer for my diabetic friends. I remember selling the Dulce de Leches, and the discontinuation after a few years helped me lose my accounts for my Spanish teachers. I remember the alterations into the third lemon cookie, the Savannah Smiles. I even remember how hard it was to introduce the cranberry/white chocolate chip cookie, called the Thank U Berry Munch, to my loyal accounts – by far the hardest to sell.
The other tricky trial that came with selling was the two changes in price throughout the twelve years. Originally, I sold at $3 per box, and there were two increases of 50¢ each. Both times, my loyal customers (the recurring accounts that purchased 5+ boxes or ~$20 product) were going to have my head, or at least I thought. As a middle schooler who is still trying to find words when selling, it was extremely difficult to tell the loyalists why the Big Bad Wolf (the baker and the council) were increasing price. For a 5-box order, that’s $2.50 difference! Even worse, conveying to the customer that the troop, as a beneficiary, received only ~60¢ per box, or 15% of the sale, regardless of price.
I learned through this process that people, especially me, hate change. In a way, though, all of these changes and circumstances only further challenged my sales skills. It was good to convince the loyal buyers to add the specialty flavors on to their regular orders because it raised more money, but it was also bad because it lost some key accounts who otherwise could not eat our cookies, due to dietary restrictions and peanut allergies (for the most part). It was bad that prices increased, but I learned that brand-loyal people will stay with your product, regardless if prices increased.
My sales skyrocketed each year, resulting in a peak of 667 boxes my senior year ($2668 total revenue, or $400.20 troop profits). Not a bad haul, for a single quarter.
But how did I do that?!
I quickly realized sales are not realized without good marketing plans. Sales were nonexistent without several solid strategies that would infiltrate the market. Neither of my parents were salespeople or marketers, so I had to be pretty creative as a young child to generate the signage and promotions we learned were profitable.
You can imagine the nearly illegible signs little second- and fourth-graders produced. I even remember being told that “we all have to share the space on the poster, because it’s our only poster” and it didn’t make any sense with everyone’s different verbiage. I loved when I was able to finally draw on my very own poster. I remember having to make it count, so the cleverness and ingenuity of it was crucial. So many of my ads were humorous, I recall customers coming up and buying, just because of the signage. That inspired me. That inspired my cohorts. We were budding marketers and salespeople and we didn’t even realize it… until that customer purchasing because of something we said or did. Soon, the little girls were more mindful and inventive of their signs, and began making signs similar to what I did.
In middle school, I had gained more freedom in sales, and I seized that opportunity as if it was the last one. I technically wasn’t allowed to sell anything in the school building, but those rules weren’t enforced, so I capitalized. Who doesn’t want to buy cookies?! I sold so many preordered boxes, I had to bring in large cardboard boxes and store them in my science teacher’s classroom. (Side note: a preorder is when a customer fills out the charted order form, waits about a month, and pays upon delivery around Valentine’s Day – or whenever I get to you. They have mostly done away with these, so the charts are artifacts.) Growth in sales was evident, and I was not complaining, although the musical instrument case, overloaded backpack, and excess of Girl Scout cookies made me think otherwise.
At my 9th-10th grade high school, the building was twice as big, and the market proved likewise. Students were beginning to have jobs, so the market grew in that regard as well. I upgraded from cardboard boxes to a dolly. The downside I quickly learned was the immobility of moving a dolly up and down stairs. I remember struggling to get the cart up the stairs, and eventually leaving it in the cop’s office so I could get to class (even though I was still late – the only time I was ever late to class!). However, the brightest outcome of this was the exposure. I had students begging me for boxes, so I rounded up more than was preordered and easily had a new marketing strategy for 11th grade.
I bought a clear storage tote at Wal-Mart my junior year of high school, and preordered at least 100 extra boxes myself, and made it a goal to sell all of them, in addition to my usual preorders. The big motivator was having to pay for – and eat – all of the leftover cookies. This high school had 3,000 students in just two grades (!) and over 200 faculty members and teachers. The market multiplied again, and I was determined my sales would also. By the first week of deliveries, I was sold out of all of the extra boxes and had to order more. There were no complaints, but I was quickly running out of energy. I kept reminding myself of the rewards I was earning, intrinsically and extrinsically. I was top seller throughout the last seven years of sales, and I was not about to let a seventh grader beat me right before graduation. Also, the money I was raising was significant for the troop’s annual budget (~7%), compared to the rest of the roughly 20 earners. This was also the year that teenagers were allowed to sell over the Internet, so I capitalized and advertised to my friends and family online – a huge market exposure. I sold 616 ($2464 total revenue, $369.60 troop profit) that year, a new record, and was ready to buy a bigger, better storage container for the next year.
(Above: Delivering boxes to armed forces my tenth grade year. I’m the tall one!)
I didn’t set a tangible goal that last year, only a goal to beat the previous record. The students who bought from me with the extra boxes wanted more, and had the money saved. That, combined with the sales from the teachers and faculty members, shot my sales through the roof. I also managed to get a major booth sale in my church (roughly 4,000 regular attendees each week) that year, which spurred the profits, even without any prior notice or advertising. The bad part of that booth sale was having to share the earnings with all of my fellow girls working the booth. I had never seen the traffic at a booth sale like there was that one morning. As I said earlier, I made my peak my senior year in high school with 667 boxes.
The biggest lesson I learned in the marketing side of this, is to let the product do the talking. If people see the success of a product, they’ll jump on it. Simply exposing an already successful brand to a unseen market will bolster sales unimaginably. While sharing profits is hard, even for teenagers and adults, the team will still benefit more than no sales at all, and that’s just something I have to live with, sometimes.
Do I regret being in Girl Scouts? Not at all. Would I do it over again? Absolutely. The amount I learned about my competitiveness, drive, and personality in Girl Scouts alone is vast, and I would not know any way to learn more about myself other than being in Girl Scouts.
And now, a request from your friendly neighborhood
Spiderman Girl Scout: annual cookie sales begin January 15, 2016. Each box is $4, and your purchase helps provide girls like me with opportunities to grow in a variety of skills including business development, culinary arts, fine arts, first aid, and STEM. By buying from Girl Scouts, you are able to provide young girls a future in leadership and an ability to dream big. Also, cookies are very tasty.
This year, I suggest supporting the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas Council. They are selling the five favorites, including Samoas, Thin Mints, Trefoils, Tagalongs (peanuts), and Do-Si-Dos (peanuts). In addition, they are selling three specialty flavors, including the Savannah Smiles (lemon cookie), Rah-Rah Raisin (oatmeal raisin cookie), and Toffee Tastic (toffee cookie, gluten-free option). My personal favorite is the Samoas for flavor, but the Trefoils come in a 36-count, Thin Mints and Savannah Smiles each come in a 28-count. Choose wisely!
If you are not interested in purchasing cookies for yourself, Girl Scouts is dedicated to serving the military, and will gladly accept monetary donations in replacement of a personal order.
Unfortunately, I am ineligible to sell due to age, and am requesting that you purchase your cookies locally. Should you not have a girl sell to you, there are online options; to find out more, visit http://www.girlscouts.org/en/cookies/all-about-cookies/FAQs.html. Also, I know a girl, or twenty.
Thank you for supporting Girl Scouts!
Kristin Johnson is a 12-year Girl Scout veteran and has been inspired to go into sales and marketing thanks to the annual Girl Scout Cookie Program.