Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

The Cutthroat World of Selling Girl Scout Cookies

Girls just want to have fun. Unless these girls are Girl Scouts -- in that case, they want to have fun and also sell you 200 boxes of Savannah Smiles every January through April.

Selling cookies is supposed to raise money (for fun!) and teach young girls the values of business and entrepreneurship. In reality, it often delivers more gut-wrenching pressure than a lower intestine filled with 200 boxes of Savannah Smiles. That applies to the girls and their parents.

To get an inside look at the high-stakes, cutthroat world of slinging Girl Scout Cookies, we talked to four anonymous moms of current Girl Scouts from Massachusetts, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and California. Their answers should shake your soul, and wipe that shit-eating Savannah Smile right off your face.

You'll probably still eat the cookies though. It's cool.

Girl Scout Cookies
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Parents pretty much do all the work, and things get vicious

It's often mom and pop doing most of the legwork selling cookies. But we don’t have to tell you that -- you're probably fielding dozens of emails from Girl Scout Parents at your office right now. They are like passive-aggressive vultures with smiley-face email signatures.

"I mean, do you get your cookies from an actual Girl Scout, or do you get them through the parents?" said Colorado mom Lindsay. "It's a freaking racket. I have to say, I kind of dread Girl Scout Cookie season. It's a lot of work for me!"

And like most things innocent and pure that children love, adults have a way of warping it into something less than wholesome (we're looking at you, My Little Pony… but not like that, ew).

"Here's the thing: The parents are always worse than the kid," Lindsay said. "I really try to not push my daughter or our cookies on anyone. But we have friends that will just hound people! They will guilt them and nag them till they give in. They will call and leave voicemails. And they'll even make you feel like a bad person if you buy less cookies than you bought last year.

"These things kind of sell themselves, you know? I've known people that have ruined friendships in the name of Girl Scout Cookies. How ridiculous is that?"

Parents are kind of forced to get involved

Unfortunately, staying out of the selling -- as a parent -- isn't really an option, lest your precious child fall behind where it counts: collecting prizes and selling baked goods for a major corporation.

"I try not to help my kids with science projects and that kind of stuff. But it has just become the norm with the cookies. I feel like this whole thing is meant to teach kids about running a business, marketing, and just selling in general. It's pretty damn valuable," Lindsay said.

Prizes vary from state to state, but there's some seriously good stuff involved, including tablets, digital cameras, trips to amusement parks, telescopes, and more. That means nobody wants to be the chump who just gets a little box of stickers while Chris Rock's daughter gets a karaoke machine.

"If parents don't get involved, our kids would definitely not sell as many cookies as their counterparts. Some of these prizes are pretty big deals, it's not just like, inflatable pink chairs anymore. These are things our kids want, and sometimes things we want, too. If we didn't help, our kids would get destroyed."

Girl Scout Cookies

Girl Scout Cookies can tear communities apart

Often, Girl Scouts are competing directly with each other for business. This is especially true in smaller communities where the pool of potential customers is shallow. In places where everyone knows each other, how do you decide whose cookies to buy? It's like Sophie’s Choice but with millions of pounds of peanut butter...

"We live in a fairly big city now, but we used to be in a really small town, with only like 8,000 people," said California resident August. "Needless to say, there was a lot of overlap. Everyone knew each other, there were a lot of girls living there trying to sell cookies to the same people."

And that's a weird setup. If you are friends with two families that have active Girl Scouts selling cookies, how do you decide which one gets your money? Should there at least be a coin flip?

"Often, people had to choose between two or more families. They had to say, 'Well, who am I going to buy cookies from? Jane's girl or Annie's girl?'" said August. "We've been on both ends of awkward conversations about this. It's hard not to have hard feelings. This is where things can get political, and where you actually need to start acting Machiavellian. And this is about cookies.

"This really was brought to light in one specific situation," she continued. "One family in the neighborhood has this big BBQ every summer. It's kind of the social event of the year. Well, one year, a specific family did not get the invite. Earlier that year, the family in question stopped buying cookies from the family that hosted the BBQ... the lack of an invite wasn't a coincidence."

The girls can get catty

Even though selling cookies has apparently become the parents' game to play, the girls are still heavily involved, of course. And the ultra-competitive apples don't seem to fall far from the passive-aggressive tree.

"Like girls their age tend to do, things can get catty," said Emily, a mom in Massachusetts. "I mean, they get catty over everything. Where to sit at lunch. How many likes they have on Instagram. When you pit them against each other, even in what is supposed to be a friendly, fostering environment, things get heated. I've definitely seen tears from some unkind words, stemming from all this. It's like The Hunger Games.”

"It doesn't even just extend to selling," Emily continued. "The whole process kind of breeds this animosity. One of my daughter's friends really wanted this one specific prize: It was a purple chair. And she would not stop talking about it. One of their 'friends' sold more cookies than everyone else, so got the top pick. She decided to pick the chair -- even though she could have had anything on the list, and this prize wasn't even that cool -- just to spite her. This kind of stuff is the norm. Maybe it's just the competitive nature of girls that age, but this just seems to make it worse."

Girl Scout Cookies
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Despite being baked, selling cookies is a pressure cooker

Not only does the allure of prizes give these Girl Scouts pressure to perform, but the very spirit of competition placed on a group of impressionable grade, middle, and high schoolers will inevitably lead to anxiety about living up to expectations. Being a kid is tough! Haven't we learned anything from watching every John Hughes movie ever?

"It's not supposed to be this thing where everyone is desperate to beat each other. But let's be honest, that's what it is," said Emily. "It's all based on numbers, and some people do better than others. There are some seriously cool prizes being offered to individuals and troops that sell… how could there not be a lot of pressure to take advantage of that?"

"You are looked at a certain way if you don't have good sales numbers," Emily continued. "It's like anything else based on merit -- grades, athletics, etc. -- people want to be around people who excel at things, and you are kind of considered a 'loser' if you can't make it happen."

There have been shady moves...

Some of these little girls are like miniature Gordon Gekkos in tartan skirts. (So, I guess they actually are learning something about business…)

"There was not a lot of potential money in our small town, so people were ruthless with their customers," said August. "I've actually seen people undercut costs just so they can lock in customers. I always thought that was ridiculous! Like, we are friends! Isn't that more important?"

Girl Scout Cookies
Flickr/Tom Simpson

The internet really complicates things

Girl Scouts have been hawking cookies since 1917 -- well before Al Gore invented the internet. Traditionally, cookies were sold in outdoor booths (like outside supermarkets), going door-to-door, or exploiting parents’ Rolodexes. And while setting up booths and going door-to-door still happen (especially in smaller markets), the prevalence of the internet and social media in people's lives seems like an obvious way to spread the word.

"These cookies are a hot commodity. So it's incredibly easy to get sales by spamming out online order links to your friends or followers," said Pennsylvania Girl Scout mom Margaret. "I've heard of people getting in trouble for going on forums and Facebook groups and trying to solicit sales there, but it really seems like a gray area. I'm not sure there are any specific rules. I'm not really sure if there even should be! I mean, what's the difference? But it's confusing. I feel like people feel bad about doing that, but then again, it's all about sales."

Collecting money can be tough

Sometimes, parents and girls are left with a ton of cash from orders, which can amount to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. They then need to hang on to that money until it's time to turn the profits in. They are like drug dealers in little skirts.

Of course, keeping your money in the same drawer as your merit badge-covered sash can have its pitfalls.

"I've heard of people losing some cash, and then having to pay out of pocket when it's all said and done. You have to be super, super-organized or everything can become a giant mess. Also, sometimes you'll have a lot of cash on you, which can be kind of scary," Margaret said.

Girl Scouts
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Some girls are more creative (and controversial) than others

Speaking of drug dealers, every year there's another viral story about a Girl Scout setting up shop outside a marijuana dispensary, ready to sell munchies to the stoned masses. Supply and demand. It's actually pretty genius. But -- as with soliciting sales on social media -- it's kind of a gray area.

"I live in a state where recreational marijuana is legal. I'm sure you've seen stories about Girl Scouts selling outside of them… or in the parking lot," said Lindsay. "I think it's a thing that's discouraged for our troop, but not out-and-out banned. But in my mind, so many Girl Scouts have booths outside stores that sell liquor and tobacco. So really, what's the difference? Not only that -- but it's hard to find a spot where cookies would be in higher demand, right?"

If that doesn't adhere to the part of the Girl Scout Law that states that the little ladies should "use resources wisely," we don't know what does.

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Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. He actually blames Gwyneth Paltrow for most of the world's problems. Follow him @wilfulton.