Technology boosts Girl Scout cookie sales

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

For 10-year-old Lalah Williams, the magic number is 1,000 - boxes of Girl Scout Cookies, that is.

Last year, the Upper Marlboro fifth-grader was one of the Washington region's top sellers of Girl Scout cookies, selling 1,003 boxes of Trefoils, Thin Mints and other favorites. She earned every award for selling certain numbers of cookies, including T-shirts and stuffed animals, all the way up to the top prize for selling more than 1,000 boxes.

During cookie season from December to March, Lalah asks absolutely everyone she meets if they want Girl Scout cookies and sends order forms to work with her parents. But for the past couple of years, she has also had some high-tech help for her already strong selling skills, using a program called Cookie Club to track her sales online. She can use it to set sales goals, see her progress and, perhaps most important, to send official cookie order e-mails to potential customers.

"Instead of going up to them and having them take five minutes to decide what cookies they want, they can just send me an e-mail," Lalah explained. That means it takes less time for Lalah, but it also gives the buyer more time to decide how many boxes to buy. Lalah said her e-mail customers almost always buy more than face-to-face purchasers, she said.

This year, the Girl Scouts are rolling out another high-tech device to boost cookie sales: a cookie finder app for smartphones. This free app contains information on all the upcoming Girl Scout cookie booth sales so people can simply enter their city or Zip code to find an upcoming booth sale in their area. Booth sales end March 27.

"Not everyone has a Girl Scout coming to their door so they call us and say, 'Where do I find them?' " said Lidia Soto-Harmon, chief executive of the Girl Scouts Council of the Nation's Capital. "Now we can tell them there's an app that makes it easy."

Soto-Harmon said boosting sales is important, because it's the main way that troops get their funds, keeping about 70 cents for each $4 box of cookies sold. Getting more people to booth sales also builds girls' personal selling skills.

"We have to make sure our girls understand the importance of a face-to-face sale and a handshake," Soto-Harmon said. "We can't lose that piece."

This year, Lalah already has plans for her new portable DVD player - which she expects to earn for selling more than 1,000 cookies. Her troop is planning a trip to Savannah, Georgia, the birthplace of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low. The girls will get a special patch for the trip.

"It's going to be a nine-to-12-hour ride," Lalah said. "I'm going to take that with me to watch movies."

- Margaret Webb Pressler

© 2011 The Washington Post Company