A version of this story appears in Friday’s The Oklahoman.
One Smart Cookie
Already the two-time Oklahoma record holder for most Girl Scout cookie sales, Katie Francis is aiming this year to sell 18,100 boxes of the tasty treats and break the national record.
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. I just really enjoy doing it.”
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 says.
“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 today, 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 says. “Not every girl is Katie Francis … but when they join Girl Scouts, they want to participate in the cookie sale. That has always surprised me. I was not the best cookie seller when I was a girl. It makes me excited, but it surprises me a little bit.”
After Little Brownie Bakers gets paid, the cookie cash stays local. A portion covers sales incentives like 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 says. “We have some troops that travel abroad and they go to places like Italy or Mexico to learn about the culture. Some troops focus on a community service project and they’ll use the money to buy dog food for a local animal shelter.”
In 2012, Katie’s Troop No. 3469 took a cruise to Mexico and donated 54 backpacks of school supplies to an orphanage in Cozumel, says 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. We’ve got one girl that wants to sell 6,000 and several of them that want to sell over 1,000,” Francis says, adding the troop’s goal exceeds 30,000 boxes.
Plus, the cookie program teaches Girl Scouts five essential life skills: goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills and business ethics.
“It’s such a great experience for them that parents and girls and customers especially don’t always see how the application will help them in the future. But it’s as simple as a Brownie making change,” Evers says.
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 hungry reporters and editors.
Tidily dressed in her badge-covered vest, with her long brown hair neatly held back with a white flower, she quietly yet confidently presents her laminated cookie menu to potential customers. She assures them she can take credit cards, encourages them to try microwaving Samoas and urges them to consider donating a box to the troops overseas or her charity of choice, the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.
“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, sometimes 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 usual activities during cookie season.
Her first year as a Girl Scout, Katie moved a respectable 2,004 boxes, but in her second season, she set her sights on earning 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.
“Because she’s broken these state records two years in the row, it’s the next thing on the list,” her mom says. “She’s very goal-driven.”
When she took aim at the national record, Katie looked up and even 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 says.
Chatting with the Cookie Queen is just one of the memorable moments Katie has experienced as a top-shelf Cookie Entrepreneur. She 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,” Katie says.
TO KNOW MORE
Girl Scout Cookie Sales
Girl Scout cookie sales officially begin Friday, with booth sales beginning Feb. 21. The final day of this year’s cookie program is March 23.
To help Katie Francis achieve of her national record-breaking goal of selling 18,100 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, call 822-9550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find a Girl Scout cookie sale in your area, download the free Cookie Locator mobile app for Apple or Android or go to www.girlscouts.org and type in your zip code.
To give to Girl Scouts Western Oklahoma’s Operation Cookie Drop, through which customers make donations used to purchase cookies for military servicemen and women overseas, go to www.gswestok.org/operationcookiedrop.