July 28, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Where are the Girl Scout cookies? Check your smartphone

Cookie lovers who’ve waited all year for their Thin Mints, Samoas and Tagalongs may wonder why Girl Scouts haven’t set up shop outside supermarkets or wheeled their treat wagons through the neighborhood.

Blame the purple tier of the coronavirus pandemic.

Door-to-door and booth sales are banned under health restrictions and most offices are temporarily closed, so Girl Scouts have been forced to go all digital with their cookie pitches this year. They’re using social media, door hangers, Zoom meetings, GrubHub delivery and individual QR code sales pages to connect with customers.

On Tuesday, 11-year-old Danity Valentine of City Heights wrote and presented a five-minute PowerPoint marketing pitch via Zoom to members of Girl Scouts San Diego’s philanthropy committee. The Wilson Middle School sixth-grader is honing her online sales techniques after selling 1,040 packages of cookies last year in the old fashioned way she prefers: face to face.

“I like selling cookies because I love seeing the look on people’s faces when they get their cookies. It really makes my day,” Danity said. “They give out prizes for selling lots of cookies, but that’s not why I do it. I do it for the smiles.”

Girl Scout cookies are big business, with more than 200 million packages sold nationwide each year. In 2020, Girl Scouts San Diego — which oversees more than 20,000 girls in San Diego and Imperial counties — sold 2.9 million packages. The $15 million those sales raised represents 68% of the local council’s budget.

The money goes toward troop programs, camp events, community outreach efforts and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, as well as the upkeep on the council’s three city and two mountain camps, said Carol M. Dedrich, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts San Diego.

“They give out prizes for selling lots of cookies, but that’s not why I do it. I do it for the smiles,” said Girl Scout Danity Valentine, 11.

(Jarrod Valliere / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Dedrich said the national organization, Girl Scouts of the USA, began making tentative plans for a socially distant cookie season last summer, then formalized the decision in the fall as the pandemic showed no sign of letting up.

Over the past few months, troops have been trained in online marketing, and websites have been set up to accommodate orders. But without the impulse buys triggered when people see cookie stands outside supermarkets and at parks, Dedrich said the San Diego council is expecting to lose at least $1 million in sales this year.

The shift to virtual sales has been hard on “elite cookie entrepreneurs” such as Kayla McArthur, 14, of Oceanside. A member of Senior Troop 1328 in Carlsbad, she is one of just 48 girls in the region who sold more than 2,020 packages of cookies in 2020. A second-generation Girl Scout, Kayla said her secret to selling 2,133 packages last winter was putting in hundreds of hours canvassing her neighborhood with her cookie wagon and manning booths.

“Usually on the first day of sales I’m out from 9 a.m. to sunset, walking the neighborhood, then after that I’m out every day after school,” said Kayla, a freshman at Mission Vista High in Oceanside. “Then on weekends when the booth sales open, I’m doing three to four booths a day, all day, every day.”

Since sales opened in mid-January, Kayla has been putting flyers in plastic bags and hanging them on neighbors’ front doors. The flyer lists the eight cookie types available, for $5 to $6 a package, and how the customer can scan a QR code with their cellphone, which will take them to her individual page on Girl Scouts San Diego’s “Digital Cookie” website. From there, customers can either pay for shipping or request Kayla drop their order on their front porch.

Kayla said it’s been weird not having all of her free time spent outdoors selling cookies the past few weeks, but she’s grateful to have time for all the extra homework required in her first year of high school.

“It’s a little discouraging,” Kayla said. “But everything is so up in the air and moving so quickly right now that there’s not much time to worry about it. I’m just trying to go with it.”

Dedrich said elite cookie entrepreneurs such as Kayla have taken on the distribution problem as a challenge, and they’re rising to the occasion.

“These girls are not backing down. I’ve talked to a couple and they said, ‘We’re going for it,’” Dedrich said. “They’re resilient and they’re go-getters. If there is a will, they will find a way.”

For neighborhoods with no Girl Scouts, there are two other ways to find cookies. GrubHub is offering cookie delivery from distribution centers staffed by scouts. Through Feb. 15, all GrubHub delivery fees are being waived for orders of $15 or more. Cookies can also be ordered for home-shipping from county Girl Scout organizations.

Dedrich said cookie season usually winds down in mid-March, but this year the sales period has been extended to give girls more time to sell their Trefoils, Do-si-dos and Toffee-Tastics. She said she’s been impressed by the positive spirit of Danity, Kayla and others.

Danity, a member of Troop 4787, has been using Facebook ads to promote her cookies, and she has a large banner with her QR code hanging outside her home in City Heights. She exceeded her scaled-down goal of selling 200 packages in just two weeks, so she has decided to set a higher goal.

“With the limited presence, this has made me more determined and motivated to sell lots of cookies,” Danity said. “I’m very surprised at how I got so many orders so fast.”

Kragen writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.