Beware, unsuspecting cookie lovers. Hundred of Girl Scouts are taking to the streets and knocking on doors, prepared to cajole you into purchasing their signature Thin Mints, Peanut Butter Patties, Lemonades and Caramel DeLites.
Earlier this month, 240 Girl Scouts, ages 10 through 17, convened at Dillard University to hone sales skills and connect with more experienced cookie sellers at “Smart Cookie U.” Keynote speaker Lauren Thom, founder of Fleurty Girl and a former Girl Scout, told the rapt audience that she applies know-how acquired peddling cookies to run her successful, New Orleans-themed retail stores.
“It all boils down to good customer service,” Thom said. “You always need to smile and treat them with respect.”
Thom’s advice spanned sophisticated strategies such as the “suggestive sell” (“Have you ever tried our lemon cookies?”); the “upsell” (“We’re running out of the mints, so you might want to buy more”); and phrasing (“It’s just 10 or it’s only 10. Never use the word ‘dollars.’”)
Girl Scouts should strive for residual sales, Thom said. Customers who buy year after year augment their total sales over time.
Most important, though, is selling existing inventory. “Capture the sale now,” she emphasized.
In breakout sessions, Scouts focused on five areas of business acumen: decision-making, goal-setting, money management, people skills and business ethics.
Troop leader Nathalie Roy Mitchell demonstrated how girls could incentivize their sales pitches. Bookmarks and magnets cut from cardboard cookie boxes add perceived value to encourage customers to buy bigger quantities.
“You’d be surprised how many people pull out that $20. Trust me; it works,” Mitchell said.
In another breakout session, girls busily worked on hand-lettered signs to attract attention to sidewalk booths. Cookies are sold in public places, door to door and via Digital Cookie — through Coco mobile apps, personalized websites and Facebook. In 2015, 16 percent of Scouts sold cookies using online tools. Girl Scouts even accept credit cards.
Session leader Stacy Verret suggested that those who say they’re dieting or avoiding sugar could always donate money instead. Financial donations in 2015 paid for 10,000 boxes of cookies given to the American Legion, Blue Star Mothers and U.S. troops.
One of the region’s top producers, Emily Hamby, 12, from Abita Springs, sold 1,256 boxes of cookies last year. The secret to her success is a furry, bright blue costume with bulging eyeballs that almost everyone recognizes as Cookie Monster.
“I stand by the side of the road, and my friends dress up like cookies — Samoas and Caramel DeLites,” Emily explained.
Her troop aims to sell enough cookies by 2019 to pay for a trip to Europe. It took three years for 20 girls to raise $6,500 to visit the Savannah home of Juliette Gordon Low, Girl Scouts’ founder.
Every girl who participated at “Smart Cookie U” received a diploma and the official, hot pink “Dream, Design, Do” T-shirt. Cookie preorders started Jan. 15, with cookie booth sales beginning Feb. 26 and going through March 13. Girl Scouts of Southeast Louisiana hope to surpass last year’s total of 1,031,063 boxes sold throughout 23 parishes.
Emily’s mom, Fae Hamby, who sewed the cookie costumes, has enjoyed lifelong friendships with members of her own troop. She says many Scouts start out shy but gain confidence while selling cookies.
“I can see how much they’ve grown,” Hamby said.