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Balancing act: For lessons in business, look to the cookie

Published: Monday, March 19 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

Top list: 30 Girl Scout Cookie recipes

Like most of you, by the end of the average workweek, I'm exhausted.

My ideal Friday afternoon involves trudging into the house, changing clothes and vegetating somewhere for the remainder of the evening.

That's why I wasn't too excited to learn that, due to a packed calendar for our family, I would be accompanying my two younger daughters to a local grocery store after work last Friday to chaperone as they sold Girl Scout Cookies.

Sure, I'd be spending time with two of my children. But as tired as I was, that wasn't the kind of work/life balance I was after at the moment. I was thinking more of "working" on "balancing" a snack on the couch while watching basketball.

I still trudged into the house and changed my clothes, but then I had to go right back out and head to the store. I probably grumbled a bit as I did so.

However, after we set up shop and the girls started selling, I was fascinated to watch a truly successful business in action.

My two daughters and I joined two other girls and one other parent in the breezeway of the store. Our snazzy display consisted of a small table stacked with the various cookie options — Thin Mints, Samoas, Tagalongs, Do-si-dos, Trefoils and the rest.

That's it. Just boxes of yummy treats and four cute girls asking everyone who walked into and out of the store, "Would you like to buy some Girl Scout Cookies?"

For three solid hours, it was like printing money.

Seriously, I've never seen anything like it. Almost everyone who came into the store responded in some way to the girls' pitch.

"Yes, I'd love some!" they'd say, then come over and plunk down their cash.

"I've already bought some, but they're gone," another person would say. "I guess I should pick up a few more boxes."

One couple came in and said they had been looking all over for the cookies. They bought 30 boxes. That's $105 worth of cookies!

Some people asked how long we would be there, then ran to an ATM and came back to make a purchase.

Others would look at our table longingly as they passed, then quickly glance away, trying to resist temptation. Some failed, walking back into the store a couple of minutes later, cash in hand.

At one point when I was handling the cash box, so many transactions were going on simultaneously that people were literally throwing money at me.

By the end of our three-hour stint we had sold more than 16 cases of cookies. That's a lot of Thin Mints. (Those are the top sellers, according to the Girl Scouts, followed by Samoas, Tagalongs and Do-si-dos.)

The Girl Scouts website says the $760 million cookie program is "the largest girl-led business in the country," and I believe it.

As the evening unfolded, it occurred to me that the girls were learning some interesting lessons about running a successful business as they hawked their wares. For example:

— Build a product that people love and that has an excellent brand name. Who hasn't heard of Girl Scout Cookies? Who doesn't love 'em?

— Set a price that is high enough to bring a nice profit but low enough to seem cheap. Girl Scout Cookies are $3.50 a box. Give them a $5 bill and you get a box of yumminess, plus change.

— Take advantage of the law of supply and demand. I think one reason people get a bit fanatical about Girl Scout Cookies is because they know they're only available for about one month each year. (However, as the girls will tell you, they freeze well!)

— Develop a well-trained, hardworking, dedicated work force. The girls get trained every year on new products and how to sell them. They know the money they raise will help pay for camps and other activities. And they're so stinkin' cute that it's hard to say no to their sales pitch!

— Take the product to the people. In addition to their door-do-door pre-sales, the girls manage cookie booths in various locations. Most people probably run across a purchasing opportunity at least twice during the cookie sales season.

The four girls at our booth were real troopers, sticking to their pitch until closing time, even though they were tired. I was exhausted by the end, too, but I'm glad I had the chance to see capitalism in action, Girl Scout-style. I hope some of those ideas sunk in with my daughters, too.

After all, you're never too young to learn about the basics of business. And when the lessons are minty and covered in chocolate, all the better.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing and on Facebook on my journalist page.

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