Local Girl Scouts now take credit cards for cookies
TAMPA - If your willpower weakens when it comes to resisting Girl Scout cookies, here’s a tasty morsel of bad news: Local Scouts are now taking plastic. With the ease of a swipe and a fingertip signature, troops in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are selling their Thin Mints, Samoas and other irresistible flavors using cellphone credit card readers. Girl Scouts of West Central Florida adopted the retail practice for the first time this year for cookie booth and door-to-door pre-sales. The council joins a growing number of Girl Scout groups across the country adopting the practice used by businesses nationwide. Use of the Square or Intuit’s GoPayment credit card readers, which plug directly into iPhone or Android cellphones, is boosting sales during this year’s selling season, which began Feb. 22.Laura Kay, leader for Troop 2500 Juniors and Troop 135 Brownies in Tampa, uses the Intuit card reader and software she already had for sales at her medical equipment company. Her daughter Sidney, 10, was No. 8 in the region for sales last year with 2,045 boxes sold. This year, she is at 1,691 boxes and climbing. The average troop gets 60 cents profit for every $3.50 box sold, or 65 cents when the troop averages more than 225 boxes per girl. The sales period ends March 17. Sidney wants to sell more than 2,500 boxes so she can win a trip to swim with dolphins at Discovery Cove in Orlando. (Last year, she earned an iPod Touch.) To make that goal, she and her mother sell nightly outside the Publix on North Nebraska Avenue. They also peg fans streaming out of Steinbrenner Field after New York Yankees spring training games. The rear window of the family SUV is decorated with the words GIRL SCOUT COOKIES, and they frequently get flagged down in traffic by motorists to make a sale. The card reader is deployed at every stop. Kay’s troops have sold close to 100 boxes during the past two weeks with credit cards. “I guarantee we wouldn’t have sold those boxes without the credit cards,” Kay says. “We always hear the excuse, ‘I don’t have any cash on me.’ This year we say, ‘We take credit cards,’ and they go, ‘You do?’
Linda Phillips, leader of Troop 1500 in St. Petersburg, remembers the days 20 years ago when her daughter Adrienne was a Scout. It was all paper back then when it came to order sheets, checks and cash.
Now that her 9-year-old granddaughter, Willow, is selling as a Junior, Phillips is using the Square card reader for transactions. Doing so not only allows immediate sales, it tracks sales per Scout and makes direct deposits into their accounts.
All of that is in addition to the other technology being deployed. Software provided by Little Brownie Bakers, makers of Girl Scout Cookies for more than 35 years, allows troops to track sales by day, week and month. It also lets Scouts set sales goals and gives coordinators a tool to track warehouse pickups and see summary sheets on per-girl sales.
Phillips was reluctant at first to use the swipe readers, sensing customers might be put off by having their credit card information in the hands of parents. That reluctance changed after the Scouts themselves voted to use the card readers.
The troop agreed to use them even though Square charges a 2.75 percent fee per swipe. (Intuit charges 2.15 percent for the Girl Scouts’ use.) Troop members reasoned that their larger sales, as well as donations from passers-by, would cover the additional cost.
The troop first took cards at a cookie booth at a Publix on 49th Street and 38th Avenue North in St. Petersburg. Sales were skimpy the first weekend. The second weekend they hauled in $200 in sales, an amount they wouldn’t have collected without the cards, they say.
“I am in love with it.” Phillips says. “I cannot imagine how much better things would have been if we had taken cards back then,” Phillips says of her daughter’s sales days. “Then again, we didn’t have the tools to use them like we do today with the phones.”
The practice might be a novelty to parents and adult customers, but it’s no big thing to the Scouts, Phillips says.
“They’re so used to people using their phones to do all kinds of things, I think it comes naturally to them,” she says. “It was just a matter of saying this is how we have to do business because this is the way people do things today.”