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Girl Scout Cookies: A tasty lesson in business

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Girl Scout Cookies: A tasty lesson in business





In addition to a badge, many young girl scouts are earning advanced skills in sales and marketing.


By Jessica Dickler, CNNMoney.com staff writer

March 26 2007: 2:16 PM EDT


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Whether it's Thin Mints, Samoas or Do-si-dos, everyone has their favorite variety of girl scout cookie. That's partly why what started as a small service project in 1917 escalated into a $700 million business.


While numbers are not yet in for this year, the girl scouts sell about 200 million boxes of cookies a year at, on average, $3.50 a box, which adds up to a big pile of dough.


But the organization says the success of the cookie program is not strong sales, but rather the business lessons that the girls learn throughout the process.


"This annual, voluntary activity teaches girls essential financial skills they will use their entire lives," Kathy Cloninger, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, said in a statement.


"Through cookie activities, girls learn how to plan, build teams, speak up, make decisions, solve problems and manage resources. These skills add up, so that ultimately, girls learn to be leaders - in their own lives - and in our communities," Cloninger said.


While many sales are secured by going door to door, some girl scouts take selling to a new level with presentations, press kits, charts and posters to support their cookie program goals. Others sell strictly in bulk to employees of local businesses, but then, of course, there are also those who ask their parents to hawk the bright colored boxes to their coworkers.


This year, the girl scouts developed a new method for touting their treats: a Web site, www.girlscoutcookies.org, where consumers can find out when and where to buy cookies. In addition, Girl Scout cookies have also added a presence on the social networking site, MySpace.com.


Keeping up to date with the latest trends in business and learning important skills about what it takes to increase sales are fantastic lessons for young women, according to Maria Coyne, head of Key4Women, a women-owned business banking program.


"And anything that gives them confidence in the way they present themselves to people is plus," Coyne said.


But where does all the money go?


How the cookie crumbles


With every box sold, approximately 70 percent of the proceeds go to the local girl scout council to support girl scouting.


Of that amount, about 12 to 17 percent goes back to the local troop, which can put that money towards a community service project, field trip or other activity of their choice.


And the balance, about 30 percent off the top, goes right back to the one of the two licensed girl scout cookie bakers, ABC Bakers, a unit of Interbake Foods, and Little Brownie Bakers, although the percentage of net profit is unclear.


Over time, the program has changed little. Chocolate Mints came to be called Thin Mints and trans fats have been removed from the recipe, but the formula remained the same.


And that's a big reason behind the program's 90-year success. "It's iconic," a spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of the USA said.


"I think the boy scouts would have loved to have an idea like this," she added.


Girl scout cookies are sold over the course of 4 months once a year.

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"But the organization says the success of the cookie program is not strong sales, but rather the business lessons that the girls learn throughout the process." Hey, I love the cookies. Especially Tag-a-longs. But I gotta say, never has there been a knock at my door from a Girl Scout. I have always purchased them from someones parent at work. Or I see them set up shop outside Wal-mart. And also, how come there USED to be more cookies in a box? Trefoils had 44, Thin mints 42, and Tags had 18, now have 15. I know it's good to support the program, but me want cookie!


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