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updated: 1/11/2013 10:43 AM

Cash or Credit? Girl Scout Entrepreneurs Kick Off Cookie Season with New Packaging and Credit Card Technology

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Amanda Elsasser

Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana unveiled new cookie packaging and greater options for customers as it kicked off its Girl Scout Cookie Program on Jan. 5. The newly minted boxes remind customers that buying Girl Scout Cookies is more than just an exchange of money for product. The young Girl Scout entrepreneurs learn key business skills that carry them into adulthood.

Also new this year is an option that will provide girls with the capability to accept credit cards via their smartphones. Girls who elect to get involved in the pilot program will attach credit card readers to their phones, facilitate transactions and calculate the percentage of the sale to be applied to transaction fees. Girls will accept credit cards during booth sales in March and April.

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A kickoff rally took place at Allstate Arena, with more than 5,300 girls and family members who gathered to learn the basics of money management, product marketing, interacting with customers, and goal setting. Girls from all 245 communities who are part of the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana council, the largest in the country, will accept pre-orders for Girl Scout Cookies Jan. 5-25, 2013.

"The Girl Scout Cookie Program provides incomparable business skills and experiences for girls. They are encouraged to set their own goals, and develop strategies to reach those goals. Time and again, we hear from key business leaders who were once Girl Scouts, and how the experiences they gained in the Cookie Program continue to help them today," said Maria Wynne, CEO of Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana. "Maintaining eye contact, tracking progress, and working in teams are examples of the soft skills that are rarely taught, yet our young entrepreneurs are fine tuning these skills by the time they are in middle school," said Wynne.

In addition to direct customer interaction, Girl Scouts have the opportunity to learn alongside highly successful entrepreneurs, including Genevieve Thiers, CEO, of Sittercity and Danielle Lutz, founder, SoleGoddess.

Lutz recommends each girl shares her own story. "When you go out to sell Girl Scout cookies, friends and neighbors are buying more than a yummy treat. They are supporting you! Pick one thing that has impacted you through Girl Scouts. Share that in your sales pitch, your Facebook page and in thank-you notes when you deliver the cookies. Through this process you've learned a valuable lesson of creating a brand which is far more gratifying than box of cookies."

The council is calling on all entrepreneurs and Girl Scouts to share their business savvy advice on Facebook www.facebook.com/GirlScoutsGCNWI. The council is partnering with the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) to provide even greater business experiences.

"NAWBO Chicago is thrilled to collaborate with Girl Scouts on Badge to Business initiatives and more. The energetic cookie professional enjoys on-the-job learning about personal and product marketing, sales, finance, independent responsibility and measurements for evaluation, all priceless tools in business," says Charisse Witherspoon, president, NAWBO.

As the organization continues to evolve with girls' use of social media, Girl Scouts are encouraged to develop their own online social media marketing campaigns and incorporate resources such as The Cookie Club™, an interactive, online cookie business strategy tool for girls. The password-protected website teaches girls about goals, tracks progress and allows girls to send e-cards to friends and families. Customers use an online order form to submit a "promised" cookie order that is automatically recorded on girls' Cookie Club™ account order pages.

Customers have eight varieties of cookies from which to choose: The Savannah Smile, Thank U Berry Munch, Samoas, Thin Mints, Trefoils, Tagalongs, Do-si-does, and Dulce de Leche.

Girls set cookie goals to support their chosen activities for the year, fund community service and leadership projects, attend summer camp, travel to destinations near and far and provide events for girls in their community. Many local Girl Scouts also participate in the Gift of Caring program, a service project in which troops decide which organization in their community they would like to help and then ask customers to purchase and donate boxes of cookies that the troop will deliver to the organization.

Customers are encouraged to visit www.girlscoutcookies.org to connect to local Girl Scouts who are selling cookies in their area.

It started in 1917 as a simple way for a group of Girl Scouts in Oklahoma to finance their local activities. More than 90 years later, hundreds of thousands of girls ages 5-17 engage in what has become one of the nation's premier financial literacy and entrepreneurship programs.

For generations of girls, the Girl Scout CookieŽ Program has fostered a sense of personal and collective empowerment. It gives girls of all ages the opportunity to practice basic skills they will use throughout their lives, including money management and goal-setting. Participation ultimately furthers the Girl Scout Mission which is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.

Profits from the sale of each $4 box of cookies help the council recruit and train new volunteers; update experienced volunteers; offer council-wide program events and outdoor experiences; maintain council properties; pay for printed materials and postage; provide support for nearly 84,000 girls; and offer financial assistance to girls from economically disadvantages areas. All profits are used locally.

Founded in 1912, Girl Scouts of the USA is the preeminent leadership development organization for girls with 3.2 million girl and adult members worldwide. Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana impacts the lives of 84,000 girls and 24,000 adult members in 245 communities in six Illinois counties (Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kankakee, Lake, and Will) and four Indiana counties (Jasper, Lake, Newton, and Porter). For more information, visit www.girlscoutsgcnwi.org.

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