By Arielle Dollinger
Melville resident Adele Tongish helps her 5-year-old daughter, Alora, sell cookies as a Daisy. The kindergartener has a lot of help from her parents – her father helped a uniform-clad Alora use cell phone software “Facetime” to chat with out-of-town relatives; her mother helped her send out emails – in making use of technology-related outreach methods.
This year, for the first time, the Girl Scouts organization has expanded selling methods for its largest annual fundraiser to include online sales via digital order card.
“Technology is a great thing to help cookies sales,” Adele Tongish said, noting that most of her family lives out of town. “My daughter's in kindergarten, she's 5, so she's not sending out the emails for the online sales herself, and she needs quite a bit of coaching when it comes to Facetime.”
Girl Scouts can now set up Digital Cookie websites. Marketing can be done online, with photos and videos, and sellers can manage customers with online customer lists.
“We're on the cutting edge, my dear!” said Ginger Todaro, director of marketing for the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County. “We do everything to support the girl and her entrepreneurship.”
Girl Scout cookie sales date back to at least the 1930s – the caption on a photo in Todaro’s office says that Girl Scouts baked and sold cookies in the windows of the Philadelphia Gas and Electric Company on Nov. 11, 2932.
As clocks have ticked and calendar pages have turned, the Girl Scouts have changed. Badges for learning to make bandages for soldiers during wartime have become obsolete; and now, the annual cookie sale fundraiser has seen its intersection with the Internet.
“Everything in Girl Scouting, for an organization like this to stay contemporary... It’s had to change considerably along the way,” said Todaro, who has been working for the Girl Scouts for 18 years and went through the program with her own daughter.
Girl Scouts in Suffolk County sell about 1.2 million boxes of cookies a year, according to Todaro – the sales of a group with a membership of 40,000 girls – and pricing is standard by the council. Nassau, Suffolk and the greater New York area tend to use the same prices because the markets are similar, Todaro said.
This year, cookies are $4 per box. Gluten-free cookies – a new addition this year in the form of Toffee-tastic cookies – are $5 per box. As prices increase, Todaro said, so do the rebates girls get for selling.
There are the five basic cookies: Thin Mints, Samoas, Tagalongs, Trefoils, Do-si-dos. New this year are Rah-Rah Rasins – oatmeal raisin cookies that feature Greek yogurt chunks – and gluten-free “Toffee-tastic” cookies. Each is supplied by Little Brownie Bakers, a Louisville, Kentucky company that stands at 3 Cookie Lane and has been a licensed Girl Scout cookie provider for over three decades.
Cookie varieties often change. Chocolate chip and lemon have each taken their turn, Todaro noted.
While selling methods have changed, the Tongish family has not abandoned old-fashioned selling strategies. Alora and her parents have gone door-to-door, too.
“That's the fun of it anyways... and how can you resist that face in person?” said Adele Tongish.
Lessons taken from selling are more easily received when Alora sells in person, her mother said; it is difficult for the 5-year-old to grasp the concept of online sales.
“In person I think… she can really understand what selling actually is and it helps build confidence,” the mother said.
Most of Alora's sales have been in person, Adele said. Alora takes pride in explaining each type of cookie. She tells prospective buyers that they might want to try the new cookies.
“She's quite the saleswoman, actually,” Adele said. “She's actually getting the hang of it, but at first she had absolutely no idea what this even was.”
When Adele asked Alora what she should write in the email to relatives, Alora “said the most bizarre, rambling thing.” Her mother wrote it verbatim for its comedic nature.
“Now she gets it,” Adele said. “I think it's mostly because of the door-to-door sales.”
According to Todaro, Girl Scouts today are taught five skills during cookie sales. The girls are taught to set goals, to make decisions about how the cookie money is to be spent, to manage money in taking orders and handling money, to talk and listen to people, and to hold a set of honest business ethics.
Long Islander Agnes Ganci helps her 9-year-old daughter sell cookies by sending out emails and posting on Facebook. The cookie sales are “more of a mom thing to do” than a child thing to do, she admits.
Still, her daughter, Caitlin, says that she enjoys selling Girl Scout cookies with her friends outside of Stop & Shop.