Tuesday, February 13, 1996
What's next? Cybercookies, virtual girls?

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Excuse me for noticing - because I wish them only great success and many merit badges - but when was the last time you bought a Girl Scout cookie from an actual girl?

When I was a Brownie, which is, of course, the Girl Scout farm team, we put on our sashes and peddled our Do-Si-Dos door-to-door. Our parents were not part of the sales force.

Family first, then neighbors

This is not to say that our families were not pulled into the cookie net. We hit the streets only after practicing on our grandparents and aunts and uncles. My mom once agreed to be a delivery station, or as they now are called, a Cookie Cupboard. This is an experience she'd like to repeat about as much as she'd like to be in a high wind without a hairnet.

Samoas and Trefoils were stacked to the ceiling in our family room along with a shoe box full of money. Nobody was bonded, and we did not have a home security system. It was a more innocent time.

By the way, selling Girl Scout cookies is absolutely no preparation for selling anything else. Everybody buys. For good reason. It's a dependable product at a fair price and has been for 60 years.

Girl Scout cookies cost $2.50 a box. You get an honest serving, and they taste just like they did back when I was dunking them into milk instead of coffee. And here is the best news: The kids get to keep most of the money.

For every box of cookies sold, the Great Rivers Girl Scout Council gets $1.70, according to Roni Luckenbill, assistant executive director. We are talking some major money here. The sales goal for this year is 1.6 million boxes.

Across the river, the Licking River Girl Scouts hope to flog 322,000 boxes with about the same profit margin, but with a different baker, the Little Brownie Co. of Louisville.

Great Rivers switched just this year to ABC Bakers in Richmond, Va., the only other official Girl Scout cookie vendor. Ms. Luckenbill says ''ABC offered more marketing support.''

So I called the ABC marketing specialist, Sylvia Flores, to find out what that means. First off, she doesn't call them cookies. She calls them a ''niche product,'' and as near as I can figure out, mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and cousins are the ''internal market'' and everybody else is the external market. She also talked about communication and ''real energy and cohesiveness,'' but I sort of fogged out after a while.

Maybe she should meet my brother, who was my marketing consultant. He told me that if somebody said they didn't want any cookies, I should cry. And that my optimum sales period was right before dinner. ''That way they'll be hungry and buy more,'' he counseled. He also told me to carry around an open box with an assortment of cookies and give one or two to ''the fattest person in the house.''

And speaking of the fattest person in the house, I sampled one of all six kinds of ABC cookies, just to make sure they were up to Little Brownie standards. They were, and according to the labels, it cost me 469 calories, 175 from fat, to find out.

Diet cookies and the Internet

There are two diet cookies, the Strawberries 'n Creme, billed as reduced fat, and the Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Bars, which are fat-free. Both taste like something you're eating because you don't have the self-confidence to eat a real cookie. Kentucky's low-fat Snaps are better, if you must eat light.

Overall, if you care, I would recommend the Thin Mints and the Caramel de Lites (known as Samoas in Kentucky) and have already ordered mine from co-workers and neighbors. Cookies will be delivered this week, and they'll also be on sale until mid-March at booths outside Kroger and Thriftway stores.

The truth is, most people don't want their little girls out knocking on strange doors.

A Boston troop and one in Hawaii have put their cookies on the Internet, and their virtual Girl Scout cookie stores will be taking orders and shipping them out through the end of March. Myself, I prefer to put my money right here in our own internal Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky market.

Even if I never see an actual Scout.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 MHz), and as a regular commentator on NPR's Morning Edition.