He stood there, shy and sheepish on my front porch, a little boy of about 8 or 9. His tan Boy Scout shirt was unbuttoned and untucked, worn over a T-shirt and shorts. He looked at me from an angle, his body turned away, ready to run back down the steps and return to the sidewalk.
“Would you like to buy some popcorn?” he said.
“No thanks,” I said. I still had an entire container from last year’s campaign.
He looked relieved, and nearly skipped down the front steps.
Saturday was “Super Saturday” for our local Scouting troops, a day intended to invigorate their annual fundraising effort with door-to-door calls and “show and sell” popcorn booths around town. In February, it will be Girl Scout Cookie time. In between, there will be lots of doorbell touches from timid little people clutching pens, sign-up sheets, or raffle tickets for their clubs, camps, bands, or troupes.
My heart goes out to that Boy Scout. I remember when I, too, had to raise money for my school clubs and extracurricular activities. The requirement so filled me with anxiety that I nearly quit.
My sales patter wasn’t any more nuanced than that of my little rumpled Scout:
“Want some [fill in the blank]?”
“No, not today.”
“OK, thanks!” Thanks for making this painful transaction short and sweet. I wish my cold calls from DirecTV would end so swiftly.
Sometimes, the dialogue would change. Someone would actually buy what I was peddling. Then my fear shifted from performance anxiety to math anxiety. I struggled to make change while Mr. or Mrs. Scary Adult waited, lips pursed, forming an opinion on the upcoming school levy.
Sometimes, I’d remember to mention my cause, as recommended by The Boy Scouts of America’s Kernel Handbook. “Focus on Scouting instead of the product,” it suggests.
My little guy likely forgot this tip the moment I, his Mrs. Scary, opened the front door. I’m assuming someone coached him on his sales pitch in the first place. I know I never got any advice when I was on the front stoop front lines. I thought I was selling chocolate bars, and I thought chocolate bars pretty much sold themselves.
Indeed, they did sell themselves. To me.
I remember, one fundraising season, eating my way through half my allotted box of World’s Finest Chocolate bars (in Almond, Caramel or Krisp). I just couldn’t decide whether Caramel or Krisp was my favorite. Frequent taste tests seemed necessary.
Closing the sale was even easier when the customer was another hungry teenager. Brunswick High School was a closed economic loop, with us Forensics Society kids selling chocolate to the Band kids, who sold their popcorn to the National Honors Society kids, who sold saltwater taffy to the Ski Club kids.
There are lessons in accountability, responsibility and even real-world marketing to be had here, but only if children are armed with more than a box of candy, a map of their neighborhood and a sign-up form. And only if their parents don’t swoop in to “help” by placing said form in their workplace lunch room.
Why are kids still doing door-to-door or point-of-purchase sales, anyway? The real marketing potential is online. The Girl Scouts, for one, have figured this out and have created Digital Cookie, which allows girls to run and manage their cookie business online.
I think of how much more engaged I’d be if I and my fellow clubbies were tasked with building an online community for our group and its fundraiser. Teach me about building an appealing website, and search engine optimization and HTML. Teach me about Twitter ads and Facebook ads and boosted posts. Let me spend Super Saturday creating a YouTube video showing people what our club does and why we love doing it, and why it deserves financial support.
That would sow kernels of a different sort, seeds of enthusiasm rather than of dread.
Reach Amy Eddings at 567-242-0379 or on Twitter, @lima_eddings.