Scouts tackle thin times with Thin Mints

Staff WriterJanuary 28, 2009 

— Ever the optimists, Girl Scouts have hit the ground running -- and walking -- knocking on door after door in the annual rite of selling Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties. But this year some Scouts have bumped up against an intractable opponent: the economy.

The formidable sales force of Scouts, deploying their twin weapons of cute uniforms and cute faces, began selling cookies earlier this month; no official sales figures are available yet. While some are finding hunger for their toothsome morsels recession-proof, others report sluggish sales.

This is kindergartner Ellie Schneider's first year as a Scout, so she has no basis for comparison. But the homeowners who answered the door at two houses on her street said money was just too tight to buy cookies.

"Another said they couldn't afford it," said Cece Schneider, Ellie's mother and leader of Troop 525, which meets at Beth Meyer Synagogue on Newton Road. "I was surprised. I mean, they're only $3.50."

At another troop meeting last week, several mothers spoke about how the economy is making it harder to move product. One mother of two Scouts who are usually top sellers said she was stunned by how few boxes they had sold. Another mother, Deanna Kropp, said she noticed some of her daughter's biggest customers were buying substantially less than in years past.

Troop leader Shauntelle Gill worried that a down economy would mean less-than-sweet sales for her Scouts.

"With everything going on, it crossed my mind that people probably won't buy as many," said Gill, who leads Troop 1822, which meets at Baptist Grove Church on Leesville Road.

She's finding the opposite is true. Scouts -- including her two daughters -- whip out the cookie order form and the yeses pour out.

"They pretty much sell themselves," Gill said. "Every year, you buy Girl Scout cookies, whether you have a job or not, whether you have money or not."

Last year, Mary-Margaret Brooks sold more than 2,000 boxes, more than half of those going door-to-door. Her secret is old-fashioned persistence. She typically spends from noon to 6 p.m. on weekends knocking on doors in West Raleigh.

As of Sunday, she had notched more than 600 sales -- just about the same amount as last year at this time. But even Mary-Margaret, 13, has noticed people buying fewer boxes. She's having to go to more homes to make the same number of sales.

A crafty marketing pitch is helping in this time of thin wallets. Buy five boxes, and your name is entered into a raffle for a year's supply of cookies. What a year's supply constitutes can vary widely from person to person, of course; the Scouts define it as 52 boxes -- one for each week.

Change of tactics

Economy aside, some people are exploring innovative ways to sell cookies. Crunched for time, Laura Baer set up a private Facebook group and invited friends to buy cookies from her 10-year-old daughter, Tori.

Of 41 boxes sold, 22 sales have come from Facebook, including from an old junior high school friend of Laura Baer's and the parents of a high school friend. She has also collected more than $100 for the Girl Scouts' Operation Cookie Drop, which ships cookies to deployed soldiers so they don't have to miss out on the once-a-year treats.

"I figured this would be an easy way to sell cookies," Laura Baer said. "I've been surprised by the response."

The Scouts don't spend much time pondering the state of the economy; they're just excited to get out there and sell. At a cookie rally earlier this month, Natalie Rouse, 8, danced to Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers and sampled cookies; an informed salesperson is the best kind, after all. Cookie order form in hand, she was ready to go the next morning.

No one told her they couldn't afford cookies. In fact, almost no one said 'no' at all.

With two months to go until cookie-selling season comes to a halt, Natalie hopes that's a trend that will continue.

bonnie.rochman@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4871

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