The COVID-19 pandemic caused many businesses to rethink their business model, and the Girl Scouts were not immune.
For Troop 8163 in Madison, the decision to find ways to keep selling cookies last spring despite social distancing restrictions was a profitable one.
“It think it was due to lack of competition,” said troop leader Beth Hamelink. “Girl Scout cookies seemed like a degree of normality, so people were eager to buy.”
Some of the creative innovations employed by the troop included yard signs with QR codes that allow passersby to order cookies, and a cookie stand on a popular bike path. The initiatives have continued this cookie-selling season, which runs through April 10.
“I think it is taking off,” Hamelink said about the QR code on a sign in her yard.
Troop 8163 consists of fourth-graders at Our Lady Queen of Peace School, where the troop is based. In the past, the Scouts took preorders that could be picked up at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church and had a cookie booth at the school at the end of the day. But with changes in how students were picked up and restrictions regarding large gatherings, the Scouts needed to get creative.
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Setting up a table outside a grocery store, which had been a well-used strategy, seemed less advantageous as the pandemic curtailed in-person shopping.
At the same time, the Girl Scouts realized they could take advantage of the foot traffic in their West Side neighborhood.
The troop came up with a “drive by cookie booth,” which essentially was a table set up in the Hamelinks’ yard. Buyers could preorder cookies and drive by to get them. Others would slow down, and the Scouts would run up to take their orders, bring the cookies to the cars and collect the money to pay for them.
“I sold a lot of Girl Scout cookies doing that, and it was a lot of fun,” said troop member Ella Hamelink. “That worked out so well.”
Ella and other Girl Scouts in Troop 8163 were spotlighted earlier this month when Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Secretary Missy Hughes met with them on International Women’s Day. Hughes had spent the day talking with women leaders about ways to support women entrepreneurs and advance women in the workforce.
Troop member Maura Raymond said at times she can see the bigger picture.
“Sometimes it feels like we’re just selling Girl Scout cookies,” she said. “Other times it seems like we’re in an actual business.”
Beth Hamelink said when they put a sign with a QR code in their yard, they sold 50 boxes of cookies because there are so many walkers in their neighborhood.
The troop also used neighborhood social networking groups and the school newsletter to sell cookies.
Julia Williams said she was making sales last year by walking around in her neighborhood pulling a wagon filled with cookies. That’s when she got the idea to set up a table near the Southwest Commuter Path for bikers and walkers that runs near her house.
“A lot of people came,” she said. “It was warm outside, so people were walking around.”
Because it worked so well she did it again and has set up there once this year.
The money from cookie sales goes toward trips, other troop activities, supplies and other expenses. A “Cookie Share” program allows Scouts to collect donations of cookies, and this year Troop 8163 will contribute them to a food pantry and give some to first responders and other health care workers. The troop also donates some of its funds to charitable causes.
Hughes said the Scouts are learning entrepreneurial skills and how to make sales and take care of customers.
Something surprised Hughes when she met with the Scouts because she figured cookie selling would be more of a chore.
“I learned how much they liked selling the cookies,” she said. “It was pure joy.”
“Sometimes it feels like we’re just selling Girl Scout cookies. Other times it seems like we’re in an actual business.”
Maura Raymond, member of Troop 8163