Girl Scout Cookie Pitch Goes High-Tech

It's that time again: Girl Scouts going door-to-door, selling tasty cookies with sweet smiles.

But those days may soon be over.

While many Girl Scouts still sell cookies house-by-house in their neighborhoods, others have set up booths in local stores, where busy customers can buy a box or two of Thin Mints or Samoas on their way home.

Using an online locator, the Girl Scouts of Central Texas have taken the vendor booths a step further. As part of a pilot program, customers can log on to the council's Web site, type in a ZIP code and find out when and where their favorite cookies are being sold.

"It's for people who don't know where the cookie sale might be," said 13-year-old scout Candice Janecka. "It gives them directions, since we're assigned booths at different stores."

Candice regularly sells more than 1,000 boxes of cookies a season.This year, most of her sales are made in booths -- the Cinna-Spins go well with coffee from the local Starbucks -- and she sells boxes of Caramel deLites outside Wal-Mart stores.

"We go out rain or shine," said Candice, "Booths have gotten more popular. You can sell 30 or more boxes, and you get to meet with people."

After 90 years, the cookie sales have grown. Girl Scouts USA estimates that national revenue from cookie sales amounts to about $700 million, based on total sales of 200 million boxes.

"It's a lot of work to go door-to-door. Gas isn't cheap and if you don't know the neighborhood, you might not want to go door-to-door," Diana Janecka, Candice's mother, said. "People will always go, 'We didn't know where the Girl Scouts were.' I'm hoping this will help."

"It's a terrific idea," said Russell Winer, a professor of marketing at New York University, about the Web site. "Rather than relying on people bumping into Girl Scouts wherever they're located, it can direct people and make their search more convenient."

"We know we have customers who have busy schedules," said Etta Moore, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of Central Texas. The online locator, she said, has doubled the number of monthly hits to the group's Web site. "And one of the neat things is that customers get to see information about our programs on the Web site."

Winer agreed that the online locator could help the Girl Scouts establish its site and sell the Girl Scout brand. The locator is being tested in 16 councils across the country, including in some parts of California, Nevada, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The feature could be available nationally next year if this year's trial turns into a success.

Winer believes that the online locator may bring new business.

"It might draw in new customers who like to shop on the Web. Even though they can't sell [cookies] there, they can direct people to where they are being sold," he said.

Because of safety and logistics concerns, Moore said that girls are not allowed to sell cookies online. "Girls can use technology to sell cookies, like e-mail, but we encourage that to be among friends and family. We try to protect the girls in all situations."

The booths and door-to-door sales also pose safety risks. Last month, Girl Scouts in Florida were robbed while selling cookies outside a local grocery store.

"Predators are on the Web," and Winer cautioned that the online locator "gives them a way of locating young girls."

The Girl Scouts' policy is to always have an adult chaperon, whether selling cookies at a booth or going door-to-door. The organization encourages safe selling practices and teaches participants how to set goals.

Candice is also a Cookie Captain, mentoring younger scouts on how to sell their treats and offering lessons on safety. "We teach them not to give people your last name or phone number and to go with an adult."

Diana Janecka said that either she or her husband, Ricky, sell cookies with their daughter, who is the third generation of Girl Scouts in her family. "Their dad is a registered Girl Scout because to go on any event with the Girl Scouts, you must be registered," she said, "The girls find it humorous that Daddy is a Girl Scout. He's humbled by it, but finds it funny too."

"At the beginning of the cookie sale, I set a goal of how many cookies I want to sell," said Candice. Her goal this season is 1,500 boxes. "Everything goes toward the girls in some way: toward the troops, the girls and Girl Scout councils. All the money you give, the proceeds, helps out in some way."

A box of Girl Scout cookies costs between $2.50 and $4, depending on variety and region.

The Girl Scouts of Central Texas sells its cookies for $3.50. Thirty-five cents of each box sold goes directly to the individual Girl Scout troop. Girls earn "cookie credits" based on how many boxes they sell. Those credits can be used toward the cost of programs and activities. Candice has been saving her credits to help pay for a stint at U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.

"To me, it's about the girls learning that they can do something," said Diana Janecka, "They aren't just selling cookies, they're selling goal setting, dance classes, piano lessons, karate lessons."

Despite her knack for sales, there is one thing Candice is on the fence about: her favorite cookie. "Oh, goodness," she said, hesitating to answer. "The old lemon ones, the caramel creams …"