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Girl Scout cookies teach business skills

Sandra Bach (left) and Arianna Failor, members of Brownie Troop 4106, learn how to make a cash transaction in anticipation of Girl Scout cookie sales during their meeting at the Sugar Grove Library.
Sandra Bach (left) and Arianna Failor, members of Brownie Troop 4106, learn how to make a cash transaction in anticipation of Girl Scout cookie sales during their meeting at the Sugar Grove Library.

When members of Brownie Troop 4106 sold Girl Scout cookies as kindergartners, they were “super nervous,” selling mainly to friends and family, co-leader Renee Dee said.

Last year, the troop began participating in booth sales at places such as grocery stores. In their third year of selling Girl Scout cookies, Dee said, the second-graders are over their fear and are focused on selling even more of the treats.

“You really see the girls taking ownership of it,” Dee said.

The girls of Troop 4106 are among thousands of Girl Scouts in northern Illinois taking orders for Thin Mints, Samoas, Tagalongs, Do-si-dos and other flavors through Jan. 27. Booth sales are scheduled for late February and March.

While Troop 4106 aims to sell 75 boxes per girl – and some girls strive for more than that, Dee said – Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois reported the region’s top seller sold 1,600 boxes last year.

Regionally, nearly 16,000 Girl Scouts sold 1,622,100 boxes of cookies in 2011, generating about $5 million in proceeds, according to the council.

Nationally, Girl Scouts of the USA reported 207 million boxes with an estimated retail value of $760 million were sold in the 2011-12 cookie season.

“It really is the largest girl-led business in the country, and we’re very proud of that,” said Vicki Wright, CEO of Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois.

According to the Girl Scouts of the USA, the association between Girl Scouts and cookies dates to 1917, when members of an Oklahoma troop baked cookies and sold them in their school cafeteria as a service project.

Five years later, “The American Girl” magazine published a cookie recipe and suggested Girl Scouts sell the treats for 25 to 30 cents per dozen, the organization reported. Girl Scouts throughout the country reportedly baked sugar cookies with their mothers, packaged them in wax paper bags and sold them door to door in the 1920s and ’30s.

The cookie program expanded and evolved in the following decades as new flavors were developed and the national Girl Scout organization began licensing commercial bakers to make cookies to sell nationwide.

Today, Girl Scouts of the USA reports about 65 percent of registered Girl Scouts choose to participate annually in the cookie program, which expanded this year to include snack bars.

The cookie program also has gone high-tech. Some troops are using a mobile app to accept credit card payments during booth sales, Wright said, and a cookie finder app is available for download.

Parental involvement in the Girl Scout Cookie Program is common, but girls are encouraged to sell the treats themselves or, if their parents sell the cookies at work, to at least deliver the cookies or write a thank you note to the customers, Wright said.

“The girl has some part of the process,” Wright said. “We don’t want it to be just a parent thing.”

By selling cookies, Wright said, the girls are learning skills such as goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills and business ethics.

“[They’re] learning how to be little businesswomen,” Wright said.

Members of Cadette Troop 4298 said while cuteness can be an advantage when selling cookies, going door to door also means encountering scary dogs, having doors slammed in your face and interacting with strangers – something that can be difficult when you’re young and shy.

“I was so shy,” Julianna Corrigan-Friedrichs said. “From this, I’ve gotten out of my shell more.”

“It does a lot for your confidence,” Lizzy Kramer added.

Now that they’re seventh-graders, it’s harder to find the time to sell door-to-door, the cadettes said. They still work booth sales and come up with creative ways to attract attention. Last year, members wore a cookie costume, tap danced and played instruments.

“I think it worked,” Lizzy said.

This year, the troop is brainstorming places where their cookie booth might be welcomed because the demand for booths at groceries and other retailers is so high, co-leader Christine Gerke said.

Each troop receives a portion of the Girl Scout Cookie Program proceeds as discretionary funds for troop activities. Troop 4298 has used cookie money to fund a trip to Willis Tower and pay for membership fees and other activities, members said, noting they want to go to a water park this year. Meanwhile, Troop 4106 decided half of this year’s cookie money will go back to the troop while the other half will go toward a community service project, Dee said.

Dee said the troop has spent three meetings highlighting the cookie program, going over topics such as customer bases.

“They are totally pumped,” she said of the brownies.

She’s a fan of the program, too.

“There’s so much skill building involved,” Dee said. “They’re skills you don’t always learn in school.”

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