By Nicole Doty -
Who doesn't know about those bite-sized, irresistibly tasty treats called Girl Scout cookies? That's a rhetorical question of course. Everyone knows them and loves them. Whether you're a fan of the traditional Thin Mint or prefer the chocolate, coconut combination in Samoas each person has their favorite. Beginning in 1917 sales of Girl Scout cookies as a way to finance troop activities proved to be a prosperous endeavor. In the early 1920's they were sold for a mere ¢25 to ¢30 per dozen. Today, it's estimated that nearly 200 million boxes of cookies are sold each year.
So how did Girl Scout cookies go from a single recipe for a simple sugar cookie to a multi-million dollar franchise? As entrepreneurs and small business owners, what can we learn from the success of such a humble conglomerate?
They don't over-sell themselves
Girl Scout cookies are only available for a limited time each year. The build up and anticipation for their arrival is almost palpable. Upon seeing that first social media post or stumbling upon a table full of cookies and smiling Girl Scouts outside of your local grocery store, it doesn't take long for word of mouth to spread that Girl Scout cookies are back and ready to be consumed.
There's a lot to be said about driving up demand for your services or your product by not saturating the marketplace. Part of what makes Girl Scout cookies so special is that you look forward to them every year like a holiday, your birthday, or a significant anniversary. Farmer's markets can drive demand for a seasonal fruit or vegetable because of it's limited availability. Clothing companies can create a buzz around a certain style, print or design by only releasing it's production in controlled quantities.
How can you create a demand for your service or commodity? Should you run an annual contest or raffle for individuals to win your services for free? What can you do to create a frenzy around what you provide potential clients and customers?
They come to you
Girl Scouts don't sit behind an office desk or hide behind their mobile devices and social media accounts to sell cookies. They go to their customers. They smile, shake hands, and have conversations with their potential patrons. How can you resist pulling out a few dollars from your wallet when a pig-tailed, happy young woman is working her tail off trying to sell you a box of cookies? Diabetes or food allergies aside, it's nearly impossible to reject the sales pitch of a Girl Scout.
So if a ten-year old budding entrepreneur can stand out on their neighborhood street corner and sell cookies, why do you find it so hard to strike up a conversation with any individual who you think can benefit from the services of your company or business? When is the last time you purposefully and intentionally made it your mission to meet people face to face? On-line marketing and blogging is certainly an excellent way to reach a mass audience but there is no substitute for personal interaction. Study after study show that an individual is more likely to use your service or purchase your product if they connect on a humanistic level with the person providing it. We buy Girl Scout cookies in part because of the joy we get when we see that smile on the face of the girl who is selling them. That's personal connection.
Each cookie is differently delicious
Variety is indeed the spice of life. I've heard full-grown adults have serious and heated discussions regarding which Girl Scout cookie is most enjoyable. Do people passionately discuss your services or products in the same manner? Will your past clients get just as excited when the topic of your industry comes up? Are they ready, willing, and able to defend their favorite attribute of your company?
Girl Scout cookies aren't just one trick ponies. They provide multiple taste experiences for their customers to enjoy. Having a singularly focused business can certainly be profitable but what happens when the shifting tides of the economy or wholesale industry-wide changes occur making your one trick obsolete? Working only a single targeted audience and providing a limited scope of products or services may pay off in the short-term but you'll increase the odds of survival over the course of time if you supply your customers with a multitude of options. There's a reason why the Girl Scouts have expanded from that one sugar cookie recipe to a dozen flavorful and unique choices. Do you think they would be as popular today if they never expanded their repertoire to maximize their client base?
They elicit an emotional response
Whether you get sentimental enjoyment out of supporting the Girl Scouts themselves or bask in the opportunity to savor those precious boxes of delectable desserts, Girl Scout
cookies connect to you on a personal level. As a small business owner, the more you relate to your clients and customers the greater your chances of gaining their business. Don't just be another company. Do you have a back-story? Why did you get in to the industry you're in and why should that resonate with others enough for them to choose you over a competitor? Give your audience a reason why they should feel good about using your services or purchasing your products.
They create brand loyalty
Other companies throughout the years have attempted to copy the cookie recipes of the Girl Scouts. Sure, they may come close in taste, shape, size, and texture but they're not Girl Scout cookies. They are simply masquerading as such. They don't come in those same colorful boxes with happy children depicted on them. You don't get the same enjoyment knowing your cash is going towards a good cause instead of padding the revenues of a billion dollar corporation. Girl Scout cookies have a tried-and-true loyal following of consumers who won't accept any substitute other than the real thing.
Do you provide such an exceptional experience to your clients that no other business in the area could ever get them to defect away from what you provide? As a small business, our goal should be to deliver such a magnificent service or product to the marketplace that, while others may attempt to duplicate, they will never be able to elicit the same brand loyalty. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. You should strive to be so distinguished that others dream and scheme of ways to copy the same business model in hopes of achieving even the slightest bit of success you have gained.
They aren't that complicated
Baking cookies isn't exactly rocket science. It doesn't take a Nobel prize winner to follow a recipe. However, in the early days of Girl Scout cookies hundreds of hours used to be spent mixing, baking, packing, and slaving over hot ovens to get their product to market. Throughout the years quicker, more efficient, and more cost-effective means of creating these treats have been implemented which streamlined the entire process. The business model of the Girl Scout cookie franchise isn't complicated either. Make the cookies, pack the cookies, sell the cookies.
How complicated is your business plan? Have you gotten so caught up in chasing every latest program or technological tool that promises to deliver a better experience for your customer that you've completely lost sight of why you started your business in the first place? When is the last time you examined your companies processes to discover ways of improving functionality and operational habits? Being a business owner doesn't have to be complicated. See a need, fill the need.