When it comes to racking up record-setting sales, Katie Francis is one smart cookie.
“There's three ingredients to selling cookies: There's lot of time, lots of commitment, and I have to ask everybody that I see (to buy),” says the self-described “Girl Scout Cookie Entrepreneur.”
“I'm good at what I do. Cookie selling is just so much fun to me.”
After breaking the state record for Girl Scout cookies sales the past two years, the Hefner Middle School sixth-grader is setting her sights even higher: She wants to break the national record.
If a goal of selling 18,100 boxes of cookies in less than two months sounds like the 11-year-old is biting off more than she can chew, Girls Scouts Western Oklahoma CEO Shannon Evers has no doubt the intrepid Cadette will make it.
“Katie is a stellar Girl Scout. She embodies everything that we teach in Girl Scouting and through the Girl Scout cookie sale program,” Evers said.
“We figured out last year … that over $40,000 went through her hands in a six-week period. And just for a kid her age to have that experience, you know, she's running her own business.”
More than just crumbs
Girl Scout cookie sales officially begin Friday, and troops can start booth sales Feb. 21. Continuing through March 23, sales of the tasty treats amount to more than just cookie crumbles.
“A lot of people don't realize it's an almost $800 million business nationwide,” Evers said. “Not every girl is Katie Francis … but when they join Girl Scouts, they want to participate in the cookie sale.”
After Little Brownie Bakers gets paid, the cookie cash stays local. A portion covers sales incentives such as camp opportunities and tablet computers. The council gets part to fund its operations, including camps, volunteer training and financial assistance for children who can't otherwise afford Girl Scouts. And the troops get a cut of the cookie, too.
“In Girl Scouting everything is girl-led, so the girls decide together how they want to spend the money,” Evers said.
In 2012, Katie's Troop No. 3469 took a cruise to Mexico and donated 54 backpacks of school supplies to an orphanage in Cozumel, said DeLee Francis, Katie's mom and the troop's co-leader and “cookie mom.” Last year, they donated and volunteered with the Noble-based WildCare Foundation, and this year, they plan to give to breast cancer research.
“She's motivated a lot of other people in the troop to sell big numbers as well,” DeLee Francis said. The troop's goal exceeds 30,000 boxes.
The cookie program is meant to teach five essential life skills: goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills and business ethics.
A popular children's book ponders all the things that could happen “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” If you give Katie an opportunity, she'll sell cookies — lots of them.
So, a chance to visit The Oklahoman for an interview and photo shoot leads to the girl pulling her wagon stacked with crates of top-selling Thin Mints, her favorite Samoas, as well as Tagalongs, Do-si-dos, Trefoils and Savannah Smiles to the desks of reporters and editors.
Tidily dressed in her badge-covered vest, with her long brown hair neatly held back with a white flower, she confidently presents her laminated cookie menu to potential customers.
“Because I have to be unique with my goal, before the cookie sale, I called a bunch of places like hotels, restaurants, spas … so we got a bunch of things for drawings. Like if you buy six boxes, you get a chance to win one of many, many prizes. If you buy 12 boxes, you can get a chance to win my grand prize,” she says, pitching a “weekend package” that includes concert tickets, a night's stay at a hotel and gift certificates.
She and her mom spend their weekends making door-to-door sales, swapping the red wagon for a sled if the sidewalks get snowy. When her troop sets up a booth, Katie dances and sings made-up ditties, and she happily demonstrates a sweet variation on “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Although she normally takes piano, voice and flute lessons, an array of dance classes and performs with the Church of the Servant youth choir and handbell choir, she sets aside many of her activities during cookie season.
Her first year as a Girl Scout, Katie moved 2,004 boxes, but in her second season she set her sights on the top-seller's prize: $1,529 toward an Oklahoma College Savings Plan. She sold 7,482 boxes, secured the college money and broke the state sales record.
Last year, she set out to smash her own mark, selling 12,428 boxes and earning an iPad and another $1,700 toward college.
When she took aim at the national record, Katie called up its holder, Elizabeth Brinton, who in the 1980s became known as the “Cookie Queen” by selling 100,000 boxes over her Girl Scout career, including the record-setting more than 18,000 in a single year.
“It was interesting to hear about what she does now. She's a stay-at-home mom, but she used to work at the National Wildlife Federation,” Katie said.
As a top-shelf cookie entrepreneur, Katie once sold cookies to Oklahoma astronaut Thomas Stafford, has fielded more future job offers than she can count and has been honored at the state Capitol.
“I think my favorite part is actually getting to meet all the new people. Like we donate boxes of Girl Scout cookies to the military serving overseas, and I've had several experiences with wives being really happy that their husbands are getting like a taste of home overseas,” she said.