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This year, my daughter’s Girl Scout troop wanted to sell cookies to fund a trip to Savannah, Ga., birthplace of Girls Scouts of America founder Juliette Gordon Low. They set a goal of 1,300 boxes. We adults were hesitant – our girls were not power-sellers, particularly outdoors in winter. But they were fired up, and there was no talking them out of it.
The Girl Scout website says cookie-selling will help girls “learn skills they need to become successful adults who will contribute to their communities and strengthen the U.S. workforce” by giving them “real-world opportunities.”
Ha! Real-world opportunities. I was skeptical that my 12-year-old daughter, Jillian, would get that. It’s cookie sales, for goodness sake. To get real-world anything, she’d have to come to the office with me. Only then would she grasp the reality of a workplace — from slackers and complainers to overaggressive territory hogs. Only then would she understand how it feels to smile while seething or have her lunch stolen from the fridge.
To make our goal, we had to go beyond booth sales. So we hit the pavement. Jillian was naively enthusiastic. I hung back and watched as she marched up to each door. In time, it became crystal clear that she was indeed encountering the U.S. workforce:
The Positively Unfit for Duty
Ding-Dong. A woman came staggering out on her porch. “Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?” Jillian asked. The woman said, "I can't ... I can't think right now." She held her head. "I can't think. I can't think." She stumbled back in and shut the door. Jillian skipped back and said, "She smells like lime."
Ding-Dong. The door opened a crack. Someone screamed, then slammed it. Jillian looked back at me and shrugged. A girl then opened the door. We’d interrupted a middle-school sleepover. They were watching horror movies. They said they didn't want any cookies, then decided it was rude to slam the door on a Girl Scout, so they'd buy one box. One said she wanted Thin Mints. One said she wanted Samoas. They argued. Another said she had access to her parents' secret stash of money. Jillian got $20 and sold five different kinds of cookies.
The Language Barrier
Ding-Dong. A man answered the door. “Would you like to buy some cookies?" Jillian said. "Cookies?" he said. "Cookies," Jillian said. "Cookies," he said. "Cookies," Jillian said. He held his finger up — just a second. He came back with a plate of cookies. Jillian said, "No, do YOU want some cookies." She pointed at him. The man said, "Oh, no." She took some cookies and left. “These are pretty good,” she said.
Three official-looking people later, one said, “No, you can’t sell here, but I’ll take three boxes.”
Ding-Dong. A man answered the door. He said he wanted cookies, but he was on his way out. He asked Jillian to come back. I don’t think he expected her to come back. But she did. This time, he said he didn’t have any cash. He asked Jillian to come back. I don’t think he expected her to come back. But she did. Though the lights were on, cars were parked in the driveway and we saw him through the window, no one answered the door.
The Difficult Client
Ding-Dong. A woman glued to an EZ chair was watching "Family Feud." She glared through the window at Jillian, shook her head, then turned back to Steve Harvey. No sale.
The Paranoid Expert
Ding-Dong. A man answered the door and told Jillian he was in no position to commit to cookies, because the company he was working for was cutting staff. Even though he’d worked there for 10 years and knew his job better than anyone else, he might get the ax. The bosses just didn’t understand what it took to get the job done. He was training people who were making more money than he was. What a waste of his life. "Make sure you don’t end up working for a place like that, young lady."
The Drug Lord
Ding Dong. Land mine: We’d stumbled onto a cookie mom. She had two daughters in Girl Scouts and this was her territory. Don’t bother trying to sell around here because she’s got it covered. Jillian nodded wholeheartedly, then sold cookies to the houses on both sides of her and across the street. “If you want to get territory, you have to go into their dens,” Jillian told me. She was getting wiser. I was impressed.
Ding Dong. All hell sounded as if it were being held back by a single door. A woman finally opened it. Four young kids and two large dogs flew out into the front yard. She tried to hold the screen door open while holding back another dog. “GET BACK HERE!” she screamed. “My wallet’s in on the table,” she said, pointing into the house. “Just go grab a dollar and consider it ... GET BACK HERE! ... a donation.”
“Can I just check over your sheet real quick? OK, my name ends in ‘ie’ not in ‘y.’ Can I borrow your pen? Oh, I live on a ‘Court’ not a ‘Drive.’ Let’s see, Savannah Smiles, yes, Do-Si-Dos, yes, Thin Mints, yes. I gave you $20, you gave me $8 — five, six, seven, eight — OK. And does this checkmark here mean you’ve marked me as paid?”
The Bureaucratic Nightmare
We went to a retirement community because the Girl Scout website suggested it. We called ahead to ask permission. The woman didn’t know and transferred us to an answering machine in a different city. We decided to go anyway. We saw a lot of potential cookie-eaters, walking and scooting around, and a lively game of charades was going on in the background. The place looked like a gold mine. We stopped an official-looking person and asked if we could sell. She didn’t know and directed us to another official-looking woman. She didn’t know and asked two more official-looking people. They didn’t know, either. Three official-looking people later, one said, “No, you can’t sell here, but I’ll take three boxes.” On our way out, Jillian said, “I don’t get that place.” Sing it, sister.
He said if he’d ever heard a better sales pitch, he couldn’t think of one.
Then ... an Ingenious Plan
The door-to-door was slowly yielding sales, but it was time-consuming. Jillian asked me if I thought there were any happy places to work. I said, “Let’s Google it.” We hit on the “Best Workplaces in D.C.” according to The Washington Post.
The top company was a high-powered law firm in the city called Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis. Through the company’s general “Contact Us” form, Jillian listed her title as “entrepreneur” and sent this email:
"Dear Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis,
My name is Jillian. I am 12 years old and am in troop 6793. I read that this is the top place to work. That means you must like to keep your employees happy. I would think that Girl Scout cookies would make them EVEN HAPPIER! Everyone loves Girl Scout cookies! Your employees would thank you. Please let me know if you’re interested. I can hook you up.
Jillian (this is my mom’s phone but ask for me)"
Ten minutes later my phone rang.
It was Mark Grannis, one of the partners, asking for Jillian. He said if he’d ever heard a better sales pitch, he couldn’t think of one. He asked her what she was interested in and what she’d like to do with her life. He spent 15 very billable minutes on the phone with her. And then, he bought 60 boxes of cookies for his employees.
“Now, that’s a good place to work,” Jillian said after hanging up. “No kidding,” I said, thinking about my unpolished resumé.
Jillian kept track of payments, set reachable goals and brainstormed different sales strategies. But in the end, it was her one-on-one interactions with real people that taught her the most, I think. She met the philanthropic and misanthropic. She got over some of her shyness. She wiggled her way through some uncomfortable situations. She pet a lot of high-strung animals. She learned to cheerfully accept “no.” She coped and persisted. She sold 300 boxes of cookies by herself, even before booth sales. She was taking whatever came her way in stride.
And really, isn’t that the best life skill to learn?
You win, Girl Scouts.
Laurel Dalrymple is a wife and mother of two. She is an editor and writer for National Public Radio and a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.