Twelve-year-old Elena Welsh is a lot like your typical seventh grader: she’s on the volleyball team, plays oboe in the middle school band, and enjoys spending time with her friends after school. But she's also a burgeoning businesswoman.
As a top-selling Girl Scout in the San Jacinto Council (Texas), she sold 5,131 boxes of cookies last year. At four dollars a box, she could buy a car, her mother and troop leader Kimberly Welsh, jokes. We spoke with Elena and her mom to learn the secrets behind Elena’s cookie sales success.
Girl Scout cookie season lasts 11 weeks, from mid-January to the end of March. In October, Elena sets her goals for the upcoming year. Several years ago, one of the incentive prizes was a Nook eReader, but a Girl Scout had to sell 1,000 boxes of cookies to earn one. An avid reader, Elena’s goal was to sell enough cookies to get one, and she sold 1,604 boxes. The following year, she set a goal of 6,000 boxes, but halfway through, realized it wasn’t realistic. "Sometimes you have to reset your goals," Elena says. Her revised goal was 3,000, and she sold 3,225 boxes. Last year, her goal was 5,000, and she sold 5,131 boxes. "I have a goal for the season, and I split it into multiple, smaller goals—many mini goals," Elena says.
With the help of her father, who enjoys crunching numbers, Elena began tracking sales data six years ago (when she was just six years old). From the best time to sell (between 6 and 8 p.m. is the "sweet spot") to how many boxes she can sell an hour at various locations, Elena says this information lets her know if she’s on target and allows her to estimate how many hours she’ll need to work to reach her goals.
According to her mother, Kimberly, the vast majority of Elena’s customers last year were strangers. Twenty percent were returning customers, 500 boxes were sold to family and friends, and the rest were sold to strangers at a booth and through door-to-door sales. Elena would pound the pavement and ring doorbells, leaving a flyer with her contact information if someone wasn’t home. She uses a dedicated email address and "cookie hotline" phone number where customers may place orders. Last year, her troop held booth sales outside grocery stores, bookstores, Walgreens, and Walmart. Of 100 scheduled booth events, Elena attended 60.
At the start of each cookie season, Elena writes her pitch. In it, she introduces herself, tells the prospective customer about her troop, how many cookies she sold last year, her goal for this year, and ends with asking whether they’d like to buy cookies. "You have to personalize [your speech]," Elena says. It’s important to let them know who you are, what you’re doing it for, and where the money goes, she said.
In addition to tracking sales data, Elena’s saved her customers’ contact information. At the end of cookie season, she’ll call customers to report how many boxes she sold and thank them for their support. At the start of the next cookie season, Elena contacts them, announcing she’s open for business. If customers provide their email addresses, she’ll contact them that way, too. "I’ve learned how to build relationships with customers and build up a clientele. Customers remember you for that," she says.
This year, Elena says she’s working to achieve balance. She wants to sell, but is also involved in a number of school activities and enjoys spending time with friends. Her favorite cookie is the Thanks-A-Lot (shortbread with chocolate), in part because the face of the cookie says "thank you" in five languages. Plus, notes Elena, ever the saleswoman, "they make a great gift."
[Image: Flickr user Brian Legate]