When I think of January, I think Girl Scout cookies: boxes and boxes of cookies to sell, booth after booth to run, crazy songs and dances about cookies to make up and perform on the spot. It is truly some of the most fun I have with my daughter, Ava, and our troop.
This year the fun is Jan. 21 through Feb. 27 in Central Texas. The best-sellers will be back: Thin Mints, Samoas (caramel, coconut and chocolate), Tagalongs (chocolate and peanut butter), Do-si-dos (peanut butter sandwiches), Trefoils (shortbread) and Savannah Smiles (lemon cookies). Joining them this year are Rah-Rah Raisins (oatmeal cookies with raisins and Greek yogurt) and gluten-free Toffee-tastic (a butter cookie with toffee bits). They will sell for $4 a box, except Toffee-tastics, which are $5 a box. And our gluten-free friends should know that there is a limited supply of Toffee-tastic cookies, so buy them if you see them and don’t yell at the Girl Scout who doesn’t have them. It’s not her fault.
It’s a long cookie season, and getting through 5½ weeks of selling cookies can be a challenge. We asked three of Girl Scouts of Central Texas’ super sellers why they do what they do, what they learn from cookie sales and what they’ve been able to do with the profits.
Isabel Leggett, a ninth-grader at Akins High School in Austin, got talked into joining Girl Scouts in first grade by her mother. About halfway through cookie season that year, she caught the cookie-selling bug. By second grade she was selling 1,000 boxes of cookies. Last year, she sold 3,670 boxes.
Her goal for this year is 5,000 boxes, a goal that makes her mother, Amy, just shake her head. “Every year we say, ‘You could just sell five boxes and it would be OK,’” Amy Leggett says.
But Isabel is very competitive, saying, “Cookie season is my favorite time of the year.”
In fact, she chooses doing cookie booths over other extracurricular activities in January and February. She does a booth each weeknight from 6-9 p.m. if her homework is done and her grades are not slipping, conditions her parents put in. On the weekends she does booths from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. both days. Mostly, it’s her father, Ben, who accompanies her at the booths, but sometimes her mom or her older brother, who’s 20, pick up a shift with Isabel.
There are five skills the Girl Scouts promise girls will learn through cookie sales: money skills, business skills, people skills, decision making and goal setting.
“You also learn how to be patient,” Isabel says. “Not every person is going to want to buy cookies.”
And you learn to entertain yourself when the selling is slow. She and her father often play the alphabet game, in which they choose a subject like fruit and go through the alphabet naming a different type with each letter. That’s where the Internet comes in when they are stuck on a fruit starting with the letter X; she learns obscure facts as well.
Isabel also is a cookie captain, which means she helps younger girls learn to sell cookies. Her advice: Always be nice. Even if you miss a sale with another customer, be nice to the customer in front of you. And upsell by encouraging customers to buy more than one box or by donating the extra money to buy a box for a local nonprofit, such as a food bank or to send oversees to soldiers.
She’s saving up her cookie money to go on a Girl Scouts Destinations trip to France. She figures if she has three great seasons, she’ll be able to go after her junior year of high school. Cookie money has allowed Isabel and her troop to do some great things like go to Big Bend and Carlsbad Caverns.
Isabel wants to go to business school eventually, and her cookie skills will serve her well.
Pflugerville sisters Sarah and Marie Young sell their cookies together and sold 3,624 boxes last year. Sarah, 16, and Marie, 10, are home-schooled and use the lessons of selling cookies as well as Girl Scout badge work as part of their school curriculum. They set up a business plan starting in November and track their progress throughout the season. They calculate how much money they make per hour, which days and times each booth is at its best and how each booth compares to the others.
They also get very creative. Last year on Super Bowl Sunday, they had a Seahawks and a Broncos package based on the packaging colors on the box; they also offered a Valentine’s Day package around Valentine’s Day.
“We tried to make it where we were not just selling cookies; we’re selling fun” Sarah says.
They also encourage customers to buy a box for soldiers. That’s near and dear to their hearts. Their father is in the Army National Guard and stationed at Camp Mabry.
Sarah has talked about the importance of Girl Scouts on military bases, including last year at Camp Mabry when Girl Scouts held a rally to pack up the cookies designated for the troops.
She’s also reached out to adult groups such as the Pflugerville Chamber of Commerce and the Pflugerville Rotary Club to explain what cookies do for Girl Scouts.
Cookie profits have allowed Sarah to take three international trips. In 2012, she went to Ghana for an International Scouting Jamboree and planted trees alongside scouts from Ghana. In 2013, she want to Ireland and Iceland and learned how to build a raft, as well as went rock climbing and mountain biking. She also planted trees while in Iceland. Last year, she went on a sailing trip around the U.S. Virgin Islands. Because she was on a boat almost the entire time, she couldn’t plant trees there.
Trees are very important to Sarah, who will start a forest recreation manager program at Stephen F. Austin State University in the fall. She earned her Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest award a Girl Scout can earn, by helping neighborhoods in Pflugerville add more trees and by training volunteers how to evaluate each yard for its tree needs. She got a grant to pay for 500 trees.