If you couldn't resist buying a box or two of Thin Mints or Samoas (both are favorites in my house) from a Girl Scout recently, don't feel bad. These pint-sized dynamos have honed sales skills that rival those of some of the most savvy adult professionals. If fact, some Scouts sell thousands of boxes per year.
"I have no doubt my top sellers will become very successful business women someday," says Kim Lasden, a troop "cookie mom" in Chicago. "These girls could teach Wall Street a thing or two."
And I have no doubt Lasden's right. I've seen girls wield selling techniques with skill, poise and an ounce of darling charm. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they're peddling a beloved, timeless classic of a product. Or that America has a sweet tooth. But their accomplishments are still remarkable and, in some cases, nothing short of amazing.
Want to know how they do it? Here's a look inside the minds of some of the most successful cookie sellers in the country.
Shannon Leary, 15 and pictured above, the top-seller last year in Quincy, Mass. with a grand total of 2,254 boxes sold, drops off the social radar during cookie season. "Cookies are my life from early January through mid-March," Leary admits, "but it's worth it."
Plant the seed
"If someone seems unsure about buying cookies, engage them by asking what their favorite cookie is," advises Leary. "Once they start thinking about the cookies, they often buy them."
Network, network, network
Erica Kendrick, 35, a former top-seller in the Chicago area, who still pays dues to and teaches for the Girl Scouts, was the first black girl in the Chicago area to wear the crown of top-seller. At age nine, Kendrick built her cookie empire on a basic principle: "I made a pyramid with my grandma at the top, and her marketing/distribution arm was something fierce," she explains. Kendrick says using all your network contacts, whether they're from church, the drill team, your school, the local beauty shop or your carpool is essential.
Perfect your sales pitch
"Practice the elevator speech in the mirror until you can recite it in your sleep," says Kendrick. "I stood in front of mine and used my teddy bears as prospective customers."
Donna Ceravolo, the CEO of Girl Scouts of Nassau County, New York, suggests girls create business cards. "They can use resources from the CEO Tools web page at LittleBrownieBakers.com to create business cards with their first name," she says. Ceravolo cautions that to be safe, girls shouldn't include a personal address, phone number or their last name.
Offer samples of your wares
Kendrick suggests keeping a sample on hand at all times. "The visceral experience is undeniable," Kendrick says. "I kept cookies from the year before in the freezer and brought them back to life when cookie season rolled around the following year and beat out my competition because no one else had received their shipments of cookies during pre-order season."
It's all about location
Though not all areas allow Scouts to snag their own locations for "booth sales," some do, like Leary's hometown. Leary scouts out potential areas to sell to, like supermarkets and banks, months in advance. Part of choosing a location is obtaining permission to sell cookies. "In a lot of cases, a permit needs to be obtained from the city," she says. To keep her sales pitch fresh, she also incorporates a mix of favorite locations with new ones. "I go to many of the same places every year, but try out new ones, too."
Marissa Monteleone, a top-seller in the Atlanta area, negotiates a deal with the businesses she's selling in front of to get them to donate a box of cookies to a local homeless shelter for every box she sells. "I advertise that to let customers know they're helping the community," the 10-year-old says.
Think beyond the box
Ceravolo suggests girls market desserts like "Thin Mint Pizzas" or "Trefoil Ice Cream Sandwiches" to tempt customers' taste buds. "Be creative and promote your project with fliers in your community and school," she says. Take orders or serve the tasty treats at local events. Be sure to have boxes of cookies available, too.
The bottom line: Smile
Be polite. Leary says you're bound to be more successful if you smile than if you're abrasive. "I always thanks customers for supporting Girl Scouts," she says, "and thank them for their time."
Gina Roberts-Grey is a regular contributor to WalletPop and a sucker for a box of Samoas.
Got cookies? 10 secrets of top-selling Girl Scouts