The Lemon-Up Stand
You can learn a lot from selling cookies.
On a cold and rainy morning in a New Jersey suburb, I stood outside the Starbucks with my daughter to sell Girl Scout cookies. We had all the ingredients for success: adorable kids in cookie costumes; a giant tailgate tent to keep us dry; hand-drawn posters to attract prospective customers; a bright green tablecloth to accent our selection of mouth watering cookies; and highly motivated parents eager to sell out our inventory before noon.
I’m sure some parents would rather be anywhere else on a Saturday morning. Not me. Despite the inclement weather, this was my opportunity to teach my child one of life’s most important skills: how to sell.
Kids should learn how to sell, and I don’t just mean how to close. Selling has always been a part of my life. In high school, I slinged $10 mixtapes (CDs–compact discs!) to classmates during gym, and on the weekends, I taught retirees how to use computers for $30/hour. I worked hard and learned invaluable lessons that I took with me to the workforce. I was so excited to introduce some of these concepts to my daughter at an even younger age. Over the course of three hours, the girls got a taste of marketing, managing, pitching, negotiating, closing, and even facing rejection. Bigger picture, they were exposed to the basics of business, the importance of effective communication, and the value of having confidence.
Let’s be real for a second. We live in a world where kids buy apps and games on iPads with their parent’s fingerprints. They have no perception of money changing hands unless we deliberately show it to them. In the weeks leading up to the sidewalk sale, people could place cookie orders on the Girl Scout website. We had Hazel make a video and pose for pictures for us to solicit sales across our social media feeds. Even though she sold more than a hundred boxes, this process was too detached for her to feel any impact from those sales.
Handing someone a physical box of cookies and receiving money for them hits harder, especially for young kids who are visual learners. On Saturday, Hazel got to conduct business in real time. Physical goods were exchanged for physical money from physical customers. The girls applied classroom math lessons in a real-life setting. They were asked questions about their products and were expected to provide real answers and customer service. While Hazel doesn’t still doesn’t know how our economy works, let alone how the global supply chain is responsible for supplying their cookies in the first place, she got to be a part of a process that drives our society.
This early exposure to business is the connective tissue to her gradual and deeper understanding of how the world works.
You also have to communicate effectively to sell. Great salespeople are active listeners who pay attention to their customers’ needs and preferences. Because of her mom’s gluten allergy, Hazel paid particular attention to customers with the same issue and made sure to mention the Toffee-tastic gluten free cookies. I thought selling them would be hard, but they sold well, because Hazel was listening to her customers’ needs. She also learned about persuasion, which is another facet of great communication. There was an ATM machine next to the Starbucks. I had suggested that Hazel mention to people withdrawing cash to take out an extra $5 for some cookies. Sure enough, most of them did. Hazel was absolutely delighted it worked, especially when one customer commented on how smart she was to ask them at that moment.
Most of all, selling requires confidence. We’re always selling to someone–not just goods and services, but also our ideas, beliefs, and ourselves. When we sell ourselves, it’s more than a transaction. It's a demonstration of our capabilities and a window to who we are. Selling requires us to step out of our comfort zones and interact with others in an assertive way. It forces us to overcome the fear of rejection and learn to not take things personally. Selling also builds resilience to handle and bounce back from difficult situations. Lastly, selling teaches us how good it feels to win. When you make a sale, you gain more confidence for the next time, and each time compounds, moving you closer and closer to your goals with more and more excitement. I know Hazel didn’t pick up on all of it, but hopefully, some of it sunk in.
As a parent, I live for teachable moments that make my kids better human beings. If I’m lucky, I get to share them with her. Selling Girl Scout cookies was all of that and so much more. I cannot measure the joy I received in watching my daughter learn the same lessons that have served me well in life, and the fact that she had fun doing it was icing on the cookie.
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