As our Troop winds down our Girl Scout Cookie Sale for 2015, it struck me that there’s a LOT that business owners and entrepreneurs can learn from the business model of the Girl Scout Cookie Sale.
If you were never a Girl Scout, you may not know that the whole point of the Cookie Sale is to teach girls 5 business skills of Goal Setting, Decision Making, Money Management, People Skills and Business Ethics.
But they’ve learned a LOT more than just that on this journey…
So here are 5 business tips you can take from the little girls in green (or brown, or blue… depending on their age level):
1. You are NOT everyone’s favorite flavor (nor should you be)
At the start of our sale, Thin Mints were flying off the shelves. Everybody was buying multiple boxes at a time.
Our girls have burned through 1500+ boxes of Thin Mints so far, but there are some customers who absolutely HATE them, no matter how much everyone else seems to love them.
“Most popular” does not mean “Loved by EVERYONE,” so please don’t ever confuse popularity with serving your market, or with being great.
The next most successful cookie flavor has been the Caramel deLites (aka Samoas, in some other regions). The girls have sold over 1000 boxes of those sweet & gooey little treasures; but again, some folks absolutely can’t stand those. Whether it’s the coconut or the caramel, for whatever reason, these cookies have a band of haters, too.
And interestingly, the Caramels have started moving much faster toward the end of the sale than the Thin Mints. What starts out strong doesn’t necessarily finish the strongest…
We also have a bunch of devoted customers to Lemonades, Peanut Butter Sandwiches (or Do-Si-Do’s) and Peanut Butter Patties (aka Tagalongs), about in equal number – roughly 700-750 boxes of each of those flavors sold to date. But some folks have allergies to peanuts or some just don’t like the Lemonades as much as they used to like the Lemon Chalet Cremes we sold when I was a kid. So again, even these strong contenders are not for everyone.
Whatever reason, each flavor has its own little club of raving fans, and each group is convinced that what they like is the absolute BEST.
And don’t even get my girls started about their favorites because we’ll have a HUGE flavor debate on our hands!
When it comes down to it, each person chooses the flavors that they prefer, and that’s totally cool. It’s not “one flavor fits all,” and thank God for that!
My personal favorites are always the best-kept-secret kinds, like the Thanks-a-Lots. (Instant S’mores, anyone? Just add toasted marshmallows!)
But then again, I’m a bit of an oddball who’s always liked to go against the grain, and never done what all the popular kids are doing just because they’re popular. I’ve always been left of center, and I’m totally good with that.
This is my favorite quote from Dr. Seuss, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because the people who mind don’t matter and the people who matter don’t mind.” And that about sums it up.
2. Leverage urgency
The Girl Scout Cookie Sale is not an ongoing thing. It only happens once a year, and it’s only available for about 6 weeks.
This is partly done so that the cookies don’t melt during hot summer days and partly to keep Troop leaders like me from going prematurely gray.
Many entrepreneurs find similar success in offering once-yearly online learning platforms or live events, such as Marie Forleo’s B-School. If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen at least a dozen different email newsletters promoting her course by now.
The thing is – if you can have it whenever you want it, there’s no burning need to take action now, for cookies or otherwise.
But if those tasty little treats are going to be gone in a matter of weeks (or in the case of Cookies, there are just DAYS remaining), well then, OMG you’ve got to get your wallet out NOW!
Especially if it’s something worth having.
3. Tie your profits to a good cause
Cookie Sale isn’t just a fund raising activity. It’s the primary channel by which GSUSA achieves their goal of supporting the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, by which they create girls of Courage, Confidence & Character. 75% of each sale goes toward programming, whether at the national or regional level, or at the individual troop level. The remaining 25% goes toward production costs for the goods sold (cookies and those cute little boxes, etc.).
It might be easy to say “no” to the average fund raiser candy bar, but it’s much harder to pass it up on something tasty when the money is going to a good cause.
And what better cause than creating strong girls who will become the women leaders of our future?
I can definitely get on board with that!
Which is why I do what I do for our Troop’s girls, to help them throughout their sale, and why I’m sharing this with you now.
Our Troop even has plans to use part of our individual Troop proceeds to fund a take-action project, to give a gift of school supplies to a children’s group home in our community, so those kids can know that they matter and are remembered.
When generosity and benevolence are built into your business model, not only can you do well, you can also do good.
4. Keep raising the bar
When you’re first starting out – as a Troop or as a new business – you’ll set a goal. But when you hit that goal – sometimes much quicker than you expected to do – what then?
You raise the bar!
Our troop started out hoping to sell 2000 boxes of cookies. We have 20 girls, and most of them are first-year members, so we thought that was a fantastic goal. Achievable, but still big, and each girl would earn the cute stuffed polar bear she so dearly wanted.
Well, we hit that goal in the first week.
Our girls were stunned, as were we – and so we raised it to 3000. Then we hit that goal by week 2.
So throughout the remaining 4 weeks of Cookie Sale, we’ve monitored our progress every few days; and each time we hit our goal, we raise the stakes again and set a new one.
Right now, it might seem like insanity to set a price for your business or services of $1,000, $2,500, $5,000, or even $10,000 or $20,000.
We thought it was a little bit crazy to think we could sell 2000 cookies, and now we’re pushing past 6,000.
But once you’ve hit that mark, YOU and your world-view will have changed, and it’s time to stretch yourself and grow some more.
I wonder what target our girls will set for 2016?
And what about you – what’s YOUR new goal?
5. Don’t rest on cute
When asking how she would sell her goal number of cookies, I once heard a girl say, “I don’t have to do anything, I just have to stand there and look cute.”
Au contraire, ma chere…
We emphasize solid business skills when teaching our girls to sell, and the one that’s most surprising to them is “the gracious farewell.”
About half the people the girls ask to buy cookies will say “yes” right away.
The other 50%, some can’t eat them for health reasons, and some have a friend or family member who is also selling, so they will buy – just not from us.
And some just say “no.” I’d guess this number to be right around 10% or 15%.
We teach our girls to say, “OK, thank you anyway! Have a nice day!”
And guess what?
Quite often, the customer who just said “no” will turn around and either buy one box or offer a donation.
Just because the girl handled their rejection with grace and dignity.
She didn’t whine about it or get down in the mouth that someone told her “no,” and she didn’t try to force a sale using a hard-sell approach.
She let them off the hook and did it with professionalism and kindness.
In business, you can never rest on your laurels – and being cute will only get you so far. As the girls get older, some find it much harder to sell cookies than it was when they were little.
They’re just standing there, resting on cute, which fades as girls get older and are expected to have more people skills.
Which is why we emphasize the people skills from the very start, even with our youngest members (Daisies / Kindergarten & 1st grade age).
Plus… Our girls have a blast when working at cookie booths, making up songs about the cookies, and cheerfully greeting every person they see.
They’re having fun, loving what they do, and we all know that is the #1 secret ingredient to success, in any business.