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Molly Guthrey, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Published February 19 2012

Selling cookies serious business for these Girl Scouts

MINNEAPOLIS – When 15-year-old Kyla Gronau got dressed for selling cookies door to door in her neighborhood this month, she decided to pair her Girl Scout vest with high-heeled boots and skinny jeans.

“You wore your heels?” her mom asked when the girl emerged from her bedroom.

“You don’t wear your heels when you’re going to be doing a lot of walking,” her dad said.

Kyla responded with her best teenage scowl.

She got to wear her heels and, grudgingly, the gloves her mother insisted she needed.

Kyla has certainly earned the “Cookie Diva” patch on her vest: The North Minneapolis girl sold 3,806 boxes of Girl Scout cookies last year, making her the top seller among nearly 45,000 girls in the three states and 49 counties that make up the local council, the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys.

But it’s not only the incentive of a trip to Ireland that motives Kyla, nor is it the team behind her (her parents, who met while selling shoes). Kyla has cerebral palsy, and she believes it has influenced how others see her.

“I want to be looked up to. All my life, I’ve been down here,” she said, pointing down. “All my life, I’ve wanted to be up here (pointing up). I feel people have looked down on me because of who I am. Now, girls want their pictures taken with me.”

Kyla’s business success affects the way fellow Girl Scout Rachel Schow sees her.

The 14-year-old from Inver Grove Heights sold 2,172 boxes of cookies last year, making her the top seller in the east metro.

Kyla and her mother have served as cookie consultants to Rachel and her mother, especially when it comes to booth sales, which begin today.

The “Cookie Booth Do’s and Don’ts” shared by Team Kyla include:

Just like Kyla, Rachel also hopes to earn a trip to Europe, a reward that typically takes several years of sales to achieve. With this goal in mind, Rachel headed out to sell cookies to neighbors and friends on Cookie “Go” Day (the first day the girls can sell cookies). This took true grit, considering she was in pain and wearing a neck brace after a gymnastics injury earlier in the week.

“I’m not going to let this stop me from reaching my goal,” Rachel said as she and her mom got into their car, armed with cookies and maps that track their past cookie sales by address.

This is a cookie marathon, and it runs for six weeks from Feb. 11 to March 25. If Kyla and Rachel are the runners, then their families are the water stations. It’s a team effort.

“We coordinate our schedules and our lives around cookie sales,” said Rachel’s mom, Jean Schow. “We never travel during this time, and every night we go door to door.”

Rachel appreciates her mom’s support.

“My mom stays up really late every night this time of year,” the Girl Scout says. “I feel bad that she doesn’t get enough sleep during cookie season, but there’s not much I can do about it.”

On Sunday, while selling on her block, Kyla was trailed by a cookie entourage: Her mother accompanied her to each door while her dad pushed 13 cases of cookies on a dolly. The cookies had a way of selling themselves: When one family looked out their window and saw the dolly go by, they hurried out with their order and their money.

This is a new strategy. Beginning last year, the local council switched to direct sales (meaning we no longer wait three weeks for our Thin Mint fix).

“Last year, we sold 5.4 million boxes, up 15 percent from 4.6 million in 2010,” says Sara Danzinger, spokeswoman for the local council. “It’s harder to resist buying when there’s a smiling Girl Scout standing in front of you with the cookies in hand. The change has also opened up more opportunities and channels for girls. One Girl Scout loaded up her sled last year and took it out to the icehouses on the lake. Another girl took hers to her brother’s fraternity house.”

Rachel and Kyla also credit the updated incentives, which include a $200 American Girl gift card for selling 1,000 boxes and an iPad for girls who sell 2,000.

“It used to be just me out here,” Rachel said as she went door to door. “Now, I have a lot more competition.”

The ultimate prize, though, is more intangible.

“We want the public to know that when they buy cookies, they’re not just buying cookies; they’re helping these girls learn valuable life skills,” Danzinger says. “They’re learning about goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills and business ethics.”

It’s part of an effort to teach girls the skills of financial literacy. This includes philanthropy, because girls also solicit donations of cookies for our troops and food shelves as well as monetary donations to charities.

Over six years, Kyla has sold about 12,000 boxes of cookies as a Girl Scout. Her personal best was 3,954 in 2010, according to her family’s record keeping. Her goal this year is 3,000. But just because she’s the top seller doesn’t mean it’s easy for her. “I get nervous talking to people I don’t know,” she says.

That’s OK, her parents say.

“To me, going door to door is the traditional way of selling Girl Scout cookies,” says her mom, Dana Gronau.

“I like taking her out of her comfort zone,” says her dad, Steve Gronau. “That helps build character and confidence.”

Kyla’s neighbors appreciated her efforts that first weekend — especially, perhaps, because she lives in the Folwell neighborhood of North Minneapolis, on a block hit hard by the May 22 tornado. Kyla walked past twisted trees and homes still under repair, including her own.

Ruth Naughton seemed surprised to open her door and see a Girl Scout.

She bought five boxes.

“Girl Scouts never come door to door anymore, so this is awesome,” Naughton said.

It was another gift of the cookie.