Thin Mints and Business Hints

The Simple Brilliance Behind Girl Scout Marketing Practices

By Brittany Robinett

The year of 2014 has ushered in several stories about successful Girl Scouts members who have rightfully earned their “cookie business” badge, as several made headlines for selling an abundance of America’s favorite cookies.

Most of us are familiar with the hilarious story that came out this February about a young scout from California who ingeniously set up shop in front of a medical marijuana clinic. Within a mere two hours, she managed to sell over 100 boxes of cookies. (This, of course, was not well-received by many chapters, who found it inappropriate for its members to sell in front of adult establishments.) Then, this March, we heard about an Oklahoma City scout who broke the all-time cookie sells record, selling up to 18,107 boxes within a seven-week period. How did she reach this record? According to her, she simply asked every person that she met to buy a box.

Thin MintIt’s interesting to contemplate how much media attention the organization’s cookie sales receive. What enables these young girls, ranging from ages of 5 to 17, to influence their communities enough to create and maintain what has grown into a $700 million empire? (Given, our taste buds have all been captured by the spiritual experience that is a Do-si-do.) There must be some common sense principles at work that businesses of all sizes can take note of and employ.

Along with leadership skills and community involvement, the organization aims to instill entrepreneurial skills into its members. What seems to impress the media the most, however, is the outgoing marketing strategy that the girls learn to employ. At the end of the day, the Girl Scouts is not a business – it’s a youth organization that operates at a national level. However, although a national organization, cookies must be sold and bought locally from a Girl Scout. Perhaps this focus on a national brand at a local level shows just how important it is for customers to attach people to a brand.

The Girl Scout’s online marketing materials cite the number of facts that the girls are advised to consider during the selling season. Summed up, each of these points encourages the girls to sell their cookies with four customer-based principles in mind:

  • Customer outreach
  • Customer loyalty
  • Customer interest

Why do you see local scouts selling outside of Kroger or in front of your neighborhood park? It’s because they recognize the importance of coming to the customer. The Girl Scouts do not have shops or stores; rather, cookies are sold seasonally, and quite frankly, nobody keeps track of when Thin Mints are “in season.” Scouts understand that it is not the customer’s job to keep informed about their product; rather, they realize a duty as young entrepreneurs to keep their customer base abreast about what they can “bring to the table.” They bring the cookies to the customer; they are encouraged to offer samples. Whatever it takes to earn and secure a customer, that’s what they aim to do. Ultimately, they operate with the ideal intention of keeping no person in the dark about their product – something all businesses should strive towards. Whether it’s keeping clients up-to-date through the mail, phone calls, or a gentle reminder through a discounted service, businesses are responsible for reminding clients why they are worth it.

Girl Scout customers tend to be a loyal base, buying annually when the chance arises. Of course, repeat purchase practices cannot develop if past customers are not given chances to buy in subsequent years. One frequently undervalued way to thank a customer for their support is to follow-up and ask that they subscribe to your services again. Offer loyalty points and discounts to returning customers, and extend those offers to individuals who have not come back yet. Keep record of services or products needed by individual customers so that you can tailor those benefits accordingly. At the end of the day, every customer is a person, and every person wants to feel remembered.

A contributing factor to the Girl Scouts repeat customers is not just a love for Thin Mints, but a co-existing love for supporting a cause. The Girl Scout organization has transparent goals and principles that it has formed a business model upon, and most community members are willing to support a cause they can understand. Make clear to your customers what your business stands for, be it in the way your employees interact with them or the advertising materials that you send their way. People might not always care about what someone stands for; however, they generally care that they stand for something. Make sure you know what that is, whether it is providing a subliminal sandwich or saving the world.

At the end of the day, children can teach us a lot. Let them!

Bexley Law Firm, LLC
http://www.bexleylawfirm.com

About the Author:  Brittany Robinett is a rising third year law student at the Georgia State University College of Law.

 

Goodwill Hunting

It could be argued that a business’s most valuable asset is its goodwill. Most business owners would likely agree that although goodwill can take years to establish, it takes only minutes to destroy.

Goodwill” is a qualitative measure of a company’s reputation, market presence, and customer loyalty. This aspect of a business is very difficult to attach a price, but any competent business will zealously guard their company’s goodwill at any cost.

While any natural disaster can destroy inventory and real estate, a store’s good reputation can withstand almost any storm. So too can the most solid of foundations be shattered by poor decisions and lousy consumer outreach.

reputation

Right now, one of my favorite shows on television is “Bar Rescue.” Bar Rescue is a reality show featuring host, Jon Taffer, a long-time food & beverage industry consultant specializing in nightclubs and pubs, who “rescues” failing bars, pubs, taverns, and grills from the brink of failure. Each episode focuses on a single failing establishment and it is up to Taffer to figure out what is the cause of the problems. Often, the root issue is a combination of poor service, management, and décor. Most of these issues can be solved with training the management and staff, retooling the drink and food menus, and renovating the interior of the restaurant or bar. In essence, the establishment gets a healthy new coat of paint and everyone is happy. Every now and then, however, Taffer has to completely overhaul everything, including the image and reputation of the establishment. Essentially, the business has so completely ruined their goodwill in its community and market that it must start from scratch.

No business should allow this to happen to itself. Reputation is more than just the sum of employee’s personalities, but a reflection of how a company conducts business. It is not just the price of goods and services, but the value offered to customers and clients. A business must always ask itself: Why should someone give me money instead of my competition? What is it that sets this business apart from any other business in that market place?

Poor goodwill is not a symptom, but the product of a diseased company culture. Whether fueled by apathy, poor management, greed, or some other cause, the result is almost always the same: failure. While some companies can survive controversy by tapping an almost limitless reserve of goodwill stored up over decades (i.e., Toyota, with its seemingly endless chain of recalls), others can falter and crumble under much less scrutiny (i.e., Kmart, which was once a titan in the superstore market, but is notorious for very low quality products and selection).

Goodwill can be cultivated and preserved by establishing sound business strategies, competitive prices, and excellent customer service.  In addition, a business must possess strong internal processes to ensure productivity and efficiency and to minimize exposure to unnecessary litigation.

A small business legal consultant can assist owners and managers in making sound business decisions to protect the company’s goodwill by providing expert advice and consultation on a host of issues, including hiring practices, employee management and compensation, vendor relationships, inventory and financial planning, and other day-to-day business decisions.

Robert S. Bexley, Attorney
Bexley Law Firm, LLC
http://www.bexleylawfirm.com

How to Ensure Bad Customer Service: the Wal-Mart Method

In a recent article on Forbes.com, Rick Ungar provides an interesting juxtaposition of the stellar success of CostCo versus the anemic growth of Wal-Mart. The result is a portait of how CostCo’s success is inextricably tied to how it treats its employees, and how that treatment creates a positive customer experience. CostCo’s brand of “ethical capitalism,” however, is in stark contrast to Wal-Mart’s model, which lies somewhere between feudalism and indentured servitude. Apparently jealous of the customer service awards received by Comcast, America Online, Electronic Arts, and Bank of America, Wal-Mart has set out to ensure that no company can compete with it, especially in the arena of poor customer service.

800px-Walmart_exterior

In an effort to increase profits and reduce employee benefits, Wal-Mart has cut employee staff, pay, and hours so that many of its employees are able to qualify for Medicaid. A study found that a single Wal-Mart superstore with 300 employees can cost taxpayers as much as $1.7 million. With a little over 3,000 superstores in the United States, this means that taxpayers could be subsidizing the healthcare of Wal-Mart’s employees to the tune of $5.1 billion a year. Essentially, Wal-Mart uses state-supported healthcare in lieu of providing quality wages and affordable employee benefits.

This is not about whether or not the government should provide healthcare for those in poverty, or whether a company has a moral obligation to provide healthcare to its employees. Those are questions best left to pundits and activists. However, it is undeniable that a company’s success is tied to its customer service. All the behemoth companies listed above did not start with terrible customer service. They grew to be that way. The only thing keeping them afloat now is their size and sheer tenacity. A small business must look to these companies as examples of what NOT to do. If you want to have good customer service, you must have satisfied employees with good morale. One cannot run a company based on the motto: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Consumers can expect to be treated with the same level of respect and dignity that an worker receives from his employer. In other words, treat your employees in the same way you want them to treat your customers.

Robert S. Bexley, Attorney
Bexley Law Firm, LLC
http://www.bexleylawfirm.com