Now speak clearly and look them straight in the eye," I murmur in my 8-year-old daughter Lilya's ear as we approach the next porch, crusted snow crunching under our feet. She knows the routine, but the repetition keeps her confidence up. "Just a minute," growls a voice inside. It doesn't sound friendly. A long minute passes as the bear rouses from hibernation. The door finally opens on a man in a snowsuit, apparently just thrown on. "What do you want," he snarls at me, but my smile and downward nod turn his attention to my eldest daughter. I watch to see how she responds.
Not missing a beat, she recites the phrase that disarms so many: "Hello, I'm a Brownie in Girl Scouts, and we're selling cookies. Do you have a favorite kind?" Only I would detect that her voice is not so chipper, but more level, almost steely, as if to brace up her courage. "Actually I do," he says in a grunt, if no longer a growl. "Do they still have the Lemon Pastry Cremes?" This is both good news and bad. The good news: if a man felt at all self-conscious about liking Girl Scout cookies, the last flavor he'd admit to craving is Lemon Pastry Cremes. Not that any flavor is especially manly, but none is more feminine than this one.
The bad news is it was discontinued. But this year's new flavor, Lemonades, is similar. The man wants to know the difference. The old was a sandwich cookie, while the new is iced shortbread, and he can live with that. "Put me down for six boxes," he says. "And I buy cookies every year, so you be sure to come back." Was that a hint of menace back in his voice? We wish him a great day and leave smiling. Down the sidewalk, we discreetly celebrate our biggest sale of the day.
The Girl Scouts emphasize how cookie sales build young girls' confidence through setting goals and working to achieve them. And of course it fund-raises, in an ingenious combination of product and pitch. The cookies strike the perfect balance of charity and vice, letting customers buy junk food to support a good cause. These decadent confections are an indulgence, fully atoned by the venerable Girl Scout tradition. Where else can you find both sin and pardon in a single box, for less than four bucks?
Timing is everything. Worn out from working and fighting the cold all week, few answered the door and none felt like buying. Back on the street 24 hours later, we find people are rested and restless for a little guilt-free decadence. My daughter knows it's a hustle, because the customer is already hooked. She asks not, "Would you like to buy some?" but "Do you have a favorite kind?"—knowing most people do. And unless they're diabetic or got tapped by another Girl Scout, they're going to order something.
Even the latter excuse doesn't always hold. It's common to hear, "Oh, honey, I already bought a bunch of boxes from my granddaughter, but ... "—and you can hear their resolve waning—"since you're here on such a cold day, maybe I'll buy another box of Caramel DeLites ... and a box of Thin Mints, to put in the freezer."
Canvassing neighborhoods takes a different kind of hustle, to get to enough doors to find the right customers. At times I still feel more pimp than parent, more dealer than dad. We beat the original goal of 150 boxes long ago—we sold 280 boxes—and even won the stuffed bunny my daughter coveted from the incentives list. Yet it feels like we should keep going, for the people just around the next corner eager to buy. My wife disagrees. She says people buy more boxes than they want out of guilt, unable to say no. Maybe she's right.
But whether we're trafficking in gluttony or guilt, the demand is still high. While my daughter may be learning the art of the hustle, she's also learning the rewards of outhustling the next seller. People just have to have their Girl Scout cookies. And we're still hustling to keep those customers satisfied.