Girl Scout’s secret to success starts with a smile

03/02/2013 12:00 AM

03/03/2013 8:06 PM

Of all the business strategies Aniyah Sneed has picked up in her years of selling Girl Scout cookies, there’s one she can almost always count on to close the deal: a smile.

That smile – plus many hours spent working cookie booths and knocking on doors in her Raleigh neighborhood – helped Aniyah, 11, earn the title of top seller last year in the local Girl Scout council’s Area 14, which spans most of northeast Raleigh. She sold 1,900 boxes – just short, she points out with only the slightest waver in that smile, of her goal of 2,000.

This year, she’s selling cookies again, determined to reach that 2,000-box goal and maybe pass it. She knows she has lots of competition – 14,000 Girl Scouts in central and eastern North Carolina sold cookies in 2012 – but there’s also plenty of appetite. About 3.2 million boxes of Thin Mints, Caramel deLites and six other cookie varieties were sold last year in the N.C. Coastal Pines council’s 41-county area alone.

Aniyah has been selling cookies for five years, officially, though she started tagging along on her older sister’s sales and troop trips around age 3.

That first year of selling on her own, she said, “was kind of scary because it was the first time getting out and just talking to people who were coming out of the stores, and I really didn’t know them. I was kind of shy at the time.”

Now she’s a seasoned pro, having sold 6,190 boxes of cookies in her career, and she grows more confident and more savvy with every sale.

She’s built up a large and loyal client base over the years, so when she’s issued her order sheets, she gets right to work contacting friends, family, neighbors and others who have bought from her in the past. Like most Girl Scouts, her cookie orders come from a mix of sources – door-to-door pitches, friends and family, her parents’ co-workers, and even some online orders. But the vast majority of her sales, she said, comes from people who walk past cookie booths set up outside local grocers and retail stores on the weekends.

Most of the time, she said, it’s not too hard to get shoppers’ attention. The booths are strategically placed just outside the exit doors, and the scouts wear their uniforms and often decorate their tables with brightly colored posters. Of course, those rectangular boxes speak for themselves, each featuring a photo of the cookie variety they contain. But a little salesmanship doesn’t hurt, either.

“A lot of people have told me, when I was little, they said that I should always smile when I’m asking, and it gets a lot of people to buy cookies,” Aniyah said.

She even offers smiles to people who decline, and for good reason.

“Sometimes I get no’s, and I say ‘Thanks anyway,’ ” Aniyah said. “Because when you give a high spirit and you show you’re OK about them saying no, a lot of people come back and buy cookies from you.”

She’s also learned the fine art of upselling. For example, she recalled, one time a customer bought two boxes but had only a $10 bill to cover the $7 cost.

“I kept trying to push that if she gave 50 more cents she could get another box,” Aniyah said, “and she ended up buying it.”

Of course, polished sales pitches aren’t the only benefit girls derive from cookie sales.

Cookie sales also teach participants about goal-setting, decision-making, money management, business ethics and people skills, according to Girl Scouts of the USA.

Aniyah’s mother, Angela Sneed-Williams, has seen those lessons take root in her daughter.

“The experience has been wonderful for her as far as it’s like doing her own business,” Sneed-Williams said. Her daughter has learned about marketing and leadership, she said, and her confidence has blossomed.

“It’s just taught her so much over the years, and I’ve seen a lot of growth,” said Sneed-Williams, who is the leader for Aniyah’s Troop 63.

Cookie sales also have thickened Aniyah’s skin, her mother said.

“She’s learned a lot as far as people saying no or people ignoring you,” she said. “Before, it used to hurt her feelings, but now it’s like she brushes it off and keeps going.”

And why not? As Aniyah points out, there are plenty more chances to make a sale: “Most times there are other people coming out of the store at the same time, so I’ll get an answer from them.”

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