Lessons learned from $800M cookie franchise

Friday, April 17, 2015, Vol. 39, No. 16

I knew from the age of 7 that marketing was my destiny as I embarked on my first moneymaking venture. But I hadn’t really reflected, until recently, on the combination of forces that in all likelihood nudged me down that path.

My father was the consummate salesman and leader with the uncanny ability to read people and innately know what made them tick. He was gifted at the art of persuasion and a strong influence on my chosen profession. But there were other factors.

As most girls my age, I was involved in Girl Scouts. The outdoor activities were a bit lost on me – having always preferred the comforts of air conditioning – but where I connected most was the annual cookie sale. It is where I learned about sales – the old-fashioned door-to-door kind. It taught me to handle rejection and persevere.

I learned how to tailor my pitch and thrived on the competition within my troop. And it’s where I learned some important marketing fundamentals that still apply today.

The Law of Supply and Demand: Limit your supply of a new, high-demand product, and both interest and desire rise. The Girl Scouts rarely change their product formula, but they limit cookie sales to a roughly eight-week “cookie season” creating pent-up demand that causes many a Thin Mint addict to bulk purchase and freeze for future use. You know who you are.

Nostalgia Sells: Girl Scout cookies have been around in some form for nearly a century, and whether you or someone in your family sold them or bought them, for many Americans, that feeling of nostalgia still exists. And nostalgia sells. It’s why you rarely see a Girl Scout cookie flavor discontinued and why the organization’s sales and marketing strategies are intentionally reminiscent of a forgone time.

Location, Location, Location: The Girl Scouts organization teaches the importance of location. Setting up shop from your own driveway generally garners mediocre results at best, but selling them on a college campus around lunchtime is golden.

Know Thy Sales Team: With the cookie campaign likely serving as each troop’s primary annual fundraiser, it’s vital that the organizations’ 2 million plus “sales” team, however nontraditional, be motivated to actively participate. Success is therefore highly contingent upon knowing what motivates young girls.

With many a scout just beginning to earn an allowance, purchasing power is enticing. The Girl Scouts tap into this desire for financial freedom by rewarding scouts selling cookies with merchandise. More sales equals better merchandise.

While you might cringe in thinking of the Girl Scouts as the masterminds behind an $800 million cookie franchise, see it for the positive nonprofit organization in which it is. The Girl Scouts are developing a lifetime of skills and confidence in young girls, and creating future business professionals, sales executives, entrepreneurs and leaders.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and managing partner of RedRover Sales & Marketing, www.redrovercompany.com, with offices in Memphis and Nashville. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).