What Small Businesses Can Learn From Girl Scout Cookies

Whether you are at home or working in an office, Girl Scout Cookies are always an exciting treat. They are not sold throughout the year, and help fund larger projects put forth the Girl Scouts of America. This is simple, and tasty, fund raising exercise that goes on each year, and it feels good to spend less than $4.00 for a good cause, which also gives us an excuse to indulge our craving for sweets, right? If you zoom out and look at the bigger picture, by selling those delightful cookies, the GSA raises over $700 million, annually. That is not a small amount of revenue, in the least. To put that amount in perspective, $700 million is the net worth of movie director James Cameron, or the cost of high-end business deals by companies like Cisco and Facebook. So what makes Girl Scout Cookies such a success, and what can small businesses learn from how the Girl Scouts of America run their operation?

gs-3The Girl Scouts Embraced Social Networking Well Before Computers

Small businesses have a halfhearted relationship with social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and the like. However, the success of Girl Scout Cookies can be traced back to the 1920s, when they were engaging people through the media outlets available at the time. Many small businesses see social media outlets as a place to blast their target audiences with advertisements, without adding anything of value for those on the receiving end. The Girl Scouts of America actually published a cookie recipe in American Girl – a national publication – that immediately caught the attention of readers everywhere. Successful small businesses know that plain advertisements only go so far. To draw in potential customers, something of value must be given in return.

Small Businesses Should Know When To Outsource

For many years Girl Scout Cookies were made by, well, Girl Scouts. However, in order to meet demand, as well as maintaining product consistency, the GSA began outsourcing to larger bakeries, such as Keebler. In the 1990s, the number of national bakeries was consolidated even more, and the GSA has been using a division of Interbake Foods and Little Brownie Bakers – a specialized division of long-time partner Keebler. As small businesses grow, and demand for products increases, it is important to see which functions can be outsourced to reduce costs while still delivering the high quality deliverable that customers demand.

Small Businesses Should Be Open To Partnerships 

Many people fondly remember the door-to-door approach of the GSA selling Girl Scout Cookies. Yet even going back to the 1930s and 40s that was not the only approach. The Girl Scouts of America would partner with local bakeries, grocery stores, and other places to get additional sales. In turn, those local businesses received good will from their communities for supporting the Girl Scouts. Small businesses are starting to realize the importance of synergistic partnerships. Property management companies will sometimes create partnerships with Internet providers, like a local Time Warner branch, or even mobile carriers, such as Sprint, in order to offer discounts and bundles to tenants, while the Internet and cellular providers receive increased sales. Local businesses will sometimes partner with charities, like Doctors Without Borders, or even the GSA to boost awareness for causes and encourage purchases by donating part of the proceeds to a charity. The right partnerships can do a lot for the sales and image of a small business.

Small Businesses Should Give Employees Incentives And Rewards 

In addition to having a great product, there is another reason why Girl Scout Cookies sell so well: incentives. Much like a business operation, the GSA rewards the Girl Scouts who sell the most boxes of cookies, as well as the troop that sells the most in the United States. This concept is not unfamiliar territory in many businesses. Salespeople frequently receive bonuses and rewards for making high sales figures in a given period. Small businesses are also catching on by rewarding their salespeople, as well as the production and administrative workers. Recognizing outstanding performances gives people at all levels the incentive to work more efficiently to propel the success of a small business. What sets this notion apart from larger organizations is that small businesses can make the rewards more personalized, and that connection means more to employees.

The Girl Scouts Can Teach Businesses About Product Diversification

Though the sale of Girl Scout Cookies started in 1917, it was not until the 1950s that the GSA introduced new flavors, such as peanut butter and chocolate mint. Everyone’s beloved Samoa cookies were not introduced until the 1970s. These were big risks for the Girl Scouts, because if they did not sell, the cost of production would have been a huge financial loss. However, the gamble paid off, and the result was an increase in sales. Much like any small business, the Girl Scouts paid attention to their market, and when certain flavors did not sell so well, production was reduced in the following year. Similarly, small businesses should do market research before rolling out new products to see if their target consumer audience will be receptive, in order to avoid huge financial losses due to the cost of production and lack of sales.

Small Businesses Can Produce Locally And Have A Global Reach

There is a lot to be said when you see Girl Scouts going door-to-door to sell cookies, or selling them from a table at your local market. However, the $700 million sales figure does not entirely come from pounding the pavement. The GSA has embraced the digital age, reaching a far larger audience than many small businesses. Having international sales is not impossible for small businesses. To use a similar example, Duff Goldman’s Charm City Cakes, based out of Maryland, has been making international sales for their custom designed cakes. If small businesses produce great products and services for local buyers, the odds are pretty good that international consumers will want them as well. Offering international sales online has low overhead, and small businesses can experience tremendous growth by expanding their reach beyond their specific locale. The Girl Scouts have even have a mobile app available through Google Play and the iOS App Store to help people locate Girl Scout Cookies in their area.

Small Businesses Reinvest In Their Employees

Of the $700 million in sales from Girl Scout Cookies, only 25 percent goes toward covering the cost of production and delivery. Sales of Girl Scout Cookies go toward the benefit and betterment of the GSA as a whole, which in turn opens up opportunities for individual troops and members. Now, it is not feasible for any for-profit small business to put one hundred percent of its revenue back into the company, but there is a lot to be said for taking a cue from the GSA. Companies like Google and Apple give employees opportunities to get a “piece of the pie” by offering stocks at special rates. National Instruments, which has consistently made the top of “Best Businesses For Employees” lists for over a decade, offers their workers fitness programs and facilities, as well as compressed work weeks and tuition help for those who elect to further their education, training, and certification. At Whole Foods, employees earn an average of $40,000 annually, complete with 401(k) and health benefits. While many see this salary as a bit high for grocery store workers, Whole Foods, along with businesses like McDonald’s, Costco, and others, are realizing that offering real wages makes employees more invested in their work, and take pride in jobs well done. People are willing to pay a little more for quality service, and most businesses that offer realistic salaries and wages perform better than competing businesses in the same industry that strive for the lowest overhead possible. Developing business opportunities from within leads to innovation and strong leadership.

Girl Scouts Know Business Strategy 

As mentioned above, Girl Scout Cookies sales are made at houses in neighborhoods across the country, as well as online. Prior to the digital age, and still to this day, Girl Scouts set up in high-traffic areas to make sales. This business strategy works wonders to boost sales and increase brand visibility. This is not just an idea that comes from troop leaders. Every Girl Scout is encouraged to think of business strategies to yield the highest sales in the name of friendly competition, which leads to creative business marketing. If you think of some of the more memorable marketing campaigns – from the “Reach out and touch someone” emotionally-charged ads from AT&T to the Peanuts Gang endorsing MetLife, and even those zany local car commercials – those are designed to boost visibility and endear the target customer base. The Girl Scouts are nurturing future business, logistics, and marketing leaders through cookie sales. It’s not such an “out there” notion when that $700 million figure keeps cropping up.

Team Building And Business Culture 

While the GSA rewards individual scouts for their sales, the philosophy of teamwork is constantly reinforced. We can see this in business teams that help promote overall success. Chevron, for example, promotes teamwork and builds business culture through safety. They found that teams who care about the well being of fellow employees are more thorough and efficient, which boosts quality and productivity. As another example, Adobe has practically let go of the reins of micromanagement, when it comes to teams. To speak generally, Adobe poses an end point, and leaves it up to the teams to do the problem solving, which nurtures innovation. Small business and large corporations can learn a lot from the Girl Scouts of America, when it comes to developing teams a creating an enthusiastic, driven and creative business culture.

Adapting To Market Trends And Future Planning 

We mentioned product diversity above, and how the GSA has set a great example for small businesses, but Girl Scout Cookies are much more than that. When people started to recognize the effects of trans-fats, the GSA started producing more health-conscious cookies. Picking up on the trend for pop-up businesses, such as Storefront in New York City, or Reebok’s Flash store, the GSA decided to hold exclusive pop-up events in metro areas, and sales skyrocketed. Now, not every business is designed for a pop-up store, but running limited time sales events – even during the off season – can boost revenue for small businesses across all industries. Even applying some creativity and thinking outside the box can drive sales at trade shows.

You Might Rethink Why Girl Scouts Wear Green

We cannot stress this enough – every year a bunch of teenagers make over $700 million in sales. Between public works, the philosophy, what they teach young women, and all of the business qualities listed above, those green uniforms make for excellent brand recognition – competing with Nabisco, Coca-Cola, Hostess, and many others. The GSA teaches teamwork, diversity, innovative thinking, logistics, management, sales, and much more. When you see Girl Scouts selling cookies, keep that annual sales figure in mind, because these women are going to be the entrepreneurs, managers, sales leads, marketers, and industry innovators of the future. Small business owners can learn a lot from the GSA and yearly Girl Scout Cookie sales.

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What Small Businesses Can Learn From Girl Scout Cookies
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What Small Businesses Can Learn From Girl Scout Cookies
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Every year a bunch of teenagers make over $700 million in sales. Learn what small businesses can take away as a lesson from this.
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Evergreen Commercial Finance
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