By using the same successful business strategies as Fortune 500 companies, Girl Scouts of the USA makes a sweet profit with its annual cookie sale.
Photograph by Ann Cutting
Every day after school for three months in 2006, seven-year-old Victoria Rose Meek would don her Brownie Girl Scout uniform and open her cookie stand for business in the front yard of her home in Coronado, California. If her hand-lettered neon green sign - which read "Girl Scout Cookies, $4" - or free cookie samples failed to catch her neighbors' attention, then Victoria would bring out the maracas to lure passersby with her own cookie siren song: "I want cookies/Girl Scout cookies/Samoas for Mommy/Tagalongs for Daddy."
It would be easy to mistake Victoria for just another adorable pixie in pigtails. But in fact, she's a pint-size sales dynamo who sold 200 boxes on her first day and kept on charging. With her cookie-marketing portfolio tucked under her arm, she braved a rainstorm in order to canvass an unsolicited neighborhood. She wrote and called corporations for contributions. She even coached her fellow Troop 5329 Brownies to set higher sales goals as she herself reached, and surpassed, her ultimate goal - selling 2,006 boxes - to clinch the last of six winners' seats on a helicopter ride over San Diego. "I just kept saying to myself, 'You can do it! You can do it!' " Victoria says.
Thanks in part to its highly motivated pixie-cute sales force of 2.8 million girls, Girl Scouts of the USA makes a mint with its annual cookie sale. The Cookie Program, as the organization calls it, sells about 200 million boxes per year. At an average price of $3.50 per box, that adds up to $700 million in proceeds each year.
But it's also the Scouts' razor-sharp business acumen that has made the cookie sale as cherished and anticipated a winter tradition as the Super Bowl. The Cookie Program is far more than a fund-raiser; it's a highly successful business and economic-literacy program. Girl Scouts hone lifetime skills such as teamwork, goal setting, and money management; they also learn and practice many of the same strategies used by corporate executives in order to market and sell their cookies and to provide service to their customers.
"Americans love the Girl Scout cookie sale, but what they think of first is the product," says Kathy Cloninger, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. "They don't realize the sophisticated underpinnings of the business of running the sale. Every troop that runs the Girl Scout cookie sale literally runs a business enterprise."