Girl Scouts get coaching in fine art of cookie sales

Cookies don’t just sell themselves — a fact Girl Scouts learn quickly.

In her first year of hawking Thin Mints and Savannah Smiles and other boxes of sweet treats, 10-year-old Abigail Briganti learned some hard lessons.

“I didn’t really smile that much,” said Briganti, of Belle Chasse. “We were angry when they said no.”

After learning the hard way selling cookies on the street, Briganti joined her Girl Scout troop in January for a day of courses on the cookie trade. Based at LSU’s Student Union, Smart Cookie U enlisted veteran Girl Scouts and troop leaders to teach lessons on cookie booth design, jingle writing, poster board sign production and interpersonal communication. Cookie sales, which just began, run through March 16.

In a course on communication skills, Briganti learned the importance of her body language when making a pitch and was taught to graciously accept rejection.

“I think it will make me more successful,” she said after her interpersonal communication seminar.

Selling cookies lasts for just two months, said Nicole Guerin, a troop leader from Prairieville, but in that time a troop can easily make $10,000, develop a small business and learn lessons that will assist them for the rest of their lives.

“Money is only part of it. The real issue is girls learning a variety of skills that will take them far,” said Guerin. “It allows girls to develop additional skills and open parts of their personalities they might not show otherwise.”

They start as young as 7, using the “cute factor,” Guerin said.

“It’s so hard to tell a little 7-year-old no,” she said.

Nationally, Girl Scouts sell more than 200 million boxes of cookies a year. Last year, southeast Louisiana Scouts sold more than 1 million boxes, according to Marianne Addy, spokeswoman for Girl Scouts Louisiana East.

Today many troops can take debit and credit cards for cookie sales, and the Girl Scouts of the United States of America developed a smartphone app that can locate nearby cookies for sale.

A 10-year veteran of the cookie game, Haleigh Schwartz, 16, of Prairieville, taught younger girls at Smart Cookie U ways to assemble an eye-catching sales booth. She led them in a relay race to put up signs, spread a table cloth, create a money box and attractively display the cookie boxes.

While she never benefited from Smart Cookie training, she learned plenty of lessons on her own.

“A lot of it is on the scene, learning different people’s personalities so you can approach them differently,” Schwartz said. “Some you can be funny with. Some you have to be serious.”

Other Scouts from her troop taught the arts of jingle song writing and poster board design.

They spread out across the parquet floors on their stomachs with map pencils, markers and glitter, sketching out ideas for witty slogans.

Bria Bean, 10, of Zachary, designed a simple, to-the-point advertisement: “Come and Get Some Girl Scout Cookies,” it read. “You Know You Want To.”

“Sometimes people want to buy them,” she said with a sly smile, “but they don’t want to get fat when they eat them.”

In the next classroom, a trio of Southeastern Louisiana University communication majors led a PowerPoint lesson on the multiple facets of interpersonal communication.

“Even when you’re not speaking, you’re communicating,” said Kali Johnson while she discussed the finer points of body language. “That’s something to keep in mind when you’re trying to reach those goals.”

The college-educated communicators gave useful tips they said will serve the girls in school and life: Make eye contact. Be approachable. Smile.

“Let them know you are giving them the right amount of change,” said Maya Miller. “You’re going to be doing this for the rest of your life, so start now.”

After their lesson, the instructors led the Scouts in role-playing exercises. They practiced selling cookies to families and difficult customers. They learned to smile and say, “thank you” to the people who ignored their sales pitch and walked away.

“Practice makes it easier,” said Katie Brown, 10 of Luling. “If you don’t practice, you don’t know what to do.”