Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Girl Scout Cookie Booth Analytics, or, Math Helps Girl Scouts Sell More Cookies!

If you've got a troop of motivated kids, then Girl Scout cookie season is BIG BUSINESS. Kids use the money their troop earns during the cookie season for everything they can dream up and plan. Cookie sales have paid for my troop to travel to both Cincinnati and St. Louis, to spend the night at an aquarium and a zoo, to conduct service projects for kids in need in Honduras and in our town, and to supply all the materials and fees for dozens of badge-earning activities and fun bonding activities and adventures both big and small.

In some ways, the math is simple: the more the kids earn, the more they can do with that money. In every other way, however, the math is quite sophisticated: your troop has to order cookies from the council, in most cases before you've sold them, and those cookies can't be returned. Don't sell them all, and instead of the girls earning profits, you'll be in debt to the council. You can sell more cookies at cookie booths in public locations than you can as individuals going door-to-door, but then you need to figure out how many cookies to order from council to take to a booth. Too few, and you've wasted opportunities for more profit. Too many, and you're back to worrying how to sell them all. Take cash to make change and then hope that all the girls (and adults!) count correctly. Take a credit card reader and hope that everyone successfully processes the customers' cards without errors. Count the inventory before and after the booth and do the same with the money, and hope that they both match. Take it all home, count the inventory again, and hope that it matches what your database says you should have. If it doesn't, dig into your non-existent forensic accounting skills to figure out what's wrong and hopefully fix it. Allocate cookies to every girl who worked at the booth, in proportions equal to the hours that she worked. Calculate the percentages of every type of cookie you sold, compare that to your expectations, and then use that to make your next order from council.

Do that over and over and over again. Bonus points if you, as we do, have a troop that runs several booths simultaneously in different places, and even more bonus points on the busy weekends when people are doing inventory and money counting on the fly so that they can pass stuff to another booth starting the next hour across town. And, of course, I'm not even mentioning all the skills that you're also busy mentoring in the girls all this time, and how you're teaching them to do all these things, as well, because that's a given. Add in the extra hours it takes to make sure they understand and take ownership of the process.

Four years ago this was all new to us, and fortunately our goals were set reasonably low, as well (although it didn't feel like that at the time!). Now, of course, we're such old hands that many of the girls beat that first-year goal during pre-orders, and the rest have usually beaten it by the end of the day that cookies finally come in. And yet the girls keep challenging themselves. This year, four of our nine kids (including Will!) have decided to try for 1,000 sales, and one kid who's sold 1,000 for the past two years is this year trying for 1,500. Don't forget that when the kids have big goals you also have to make sure you've got enough booths to make that happen, and please know that angling for booth picks is bloodthirsty business, and you've got to make sure that your orders from council are enough to stock all these booths AND ensure that your girls can meet their goals. You want a little extra, because rarely will a girl be able to meet her goal and then stop selling that second, mid-booth, but again, you don't want too many extra because selling extra troop cookies after you've all met your goals is just about the most miserable work there is.

It's a lot to do, and a lot of it IS luck and guesswork. You can virtually elbow all the other troop leaders out of your way to get the hottest booth pick, only for a winter storm to trash all your sales that day, while all the booths in lousy spots the day before get the awesome pre-winter storm sales. Or maybe last year everybody and their dog was screaming for Do-Si-Dos, so you order them at that percent this year and it takes you a whole season to get through what you'd thought would be one weekend's supply--that happened to me last year with Trefoils, and it was SUPER stressful.

The Great Trefoil Overage of 2018 aside, though, what I've learned is that while much of it is luck and guesswork, a lot more of it is logical and predictable than you might think. If I lay everything out in graphs and charts and numbers, then I can predict quite accurately what percentages of each type of cookie to order, and how many cookies to bring to booths, and which booth spots are the best on which particular dates and times. Just choosing a booth spot that typically sells 10 more boxes of cookies an hour over another equally likely booth spot is a big deal, especially if you can do that consistently over the course of the season.

So here are some of the analytics that I use for my troop's Girl Scout cookie sales. The most important is the one that helps me figure out percentages for ordering cookies from council. The first year the girls sold cookies, I was lost. I tried asking my Service Unit Manager at the time, and she just sort of told me something along the lines of, "Oh, a few cases of Thin Mints and Samoas, a couple of cases of everything else, etc."

I was all, "Seriously? No, seriously. How MANY?!?" It was... unhelpful.

Fortunately, after you have a whole season behind you, especially if you've done several booths, the math is a lot easier. All you have to do is take your booth record sheets from the last year (which you DO have and you DID keep, yes?!?) and calculate the percentages for each type of cookie that you sold at each booth. If you're collecting donations for physical boxes of cookies that you donate locally, don't include those, as you know you mostly take them from what isn't selling as well as it should (and if you're not doing it that way, you SHOULD be!). Also don't include what girls sell individually, because they always sell what they've ordered, even if that means going door-to-door selling nothing but Tagalongs after they've sold out of everything else. Booths should be fully stocked for most of the season, so booth sales should be reflecting what customers actually want, in the percentages that they want them.

Calculate these percentages for several, if not all, of your booths, then average the percentages for each type to calculate the overall percentage of sale for each type of cookie the previous year:


Above is the master document that I make and then pull all of my information from for the rest of my analytics. Notice I've got date, time, day of the week, booth location, number of hours, total sale numbers, percentage of sale for each type of cookie at each booth, and color codes to indicate multiple booths at the same location. It's pretty messy, so you might not be able to see where all that information is, but I assure you, it's there!

That document is all scut work, looking back at the messy handwriting on all of last year's booth tally forms, trying to decipher some fuzzy calculations that were done on the fly, etc., so I don't ask the girls to help with that part. But girls can certainly take my numbers and average the overall percentage for each type of cookie; could even make a pie chart from it, although I find that kind of chart less useful for our purposes. It's good math for a kid, though.

Those averaged percentages for each type of cookie are what I order from the cupboard. I have another chart where I have my possible orders listed by the hundreds and have each type of cookie calculated in both the actual numbers and the numbers averaged to the nearest case, both up and down, so that I don't have to do all the calculating fresh every week. 

So that tells me what percentages to order, but I still need to know how overall boxes to order. That's a whole other set of graphs!

For that, I took each booth location that we worked last year and broke it down into sales per hour. If we did several booths at that location, I put the graphs all on the same page:


 Notice that this information is less useful when we've gotten a booth spot for a really long period of time. For instance, in the bar graphs above, you can see that when we did a Sunday morning booth there, our per-hour sales were fewer than 20 boxes. But if you just looked at the Sunday where we started there at 10 but stayed all day, our average is over 40 boxes per hour. Some hours in there must have been REALLY good to bring the average up enough to mask the lousy morning sales, but I don't have the information to see where they were.

 If we only did one booth at that location, I put it by itself:



It's a decent start to figuring out sales numbers, but with just one booth spot, you can't rely on it completely.

The per-hour number, then, is a good way to figure out how much to order for a weekend of booth sales. But what you don't see very clearly in the bar graphs is that you also have to take into account how far into the season your booths are. A booth spot the first weekend of cookie sales is obviously going to sell a lot more cookies than that same spot six weeks later. Here's the graph that I made to represent how our sales fell off over time last year:

I think that this graph actually makes it easier to see how the day of the week affects sales, too. And it's certainly a good visual for the girls that extra hustling is likely to pay off better early in the season than later. 

It's a good idea to continue calculating these percentages and sales per hour as you go through the current cookie season, both because the percentages do change a little every year, and I've made some small adjustments to how I'm ordering, and because you're adding new booth dates and times to the information that you have available. This is the best time to teach the girls how to make these calculations and use this information, as well. This is Step 5 of the Junior Cookie CEO badge, but since the whole purpose of earning a badge is to use the skills you learn, older girls could be expected as a matter of course to make these calculations and predictions part of their cookie sale experience every year. 

Today, for instance, it's Will's turn to help me. While I'm writing this, she's going through last weekend's booth tally and calculating the percentages of each type of cookie sold. Next, she'll average that with last year's average to come up with a corrected current average. Finally, she'll multiply by ten to come up with the number of each type that I want to order from council this week, divide by 12 to find the number of cases I'll order, and round down to the nearest whole number so that I don't have to deal with any partial cases. 

Sounds like a pretty good school afternoon, yes? 

P.S. Want to know more about all the weird math I have my girls do, as well as our other wanderings and wonderings? Check out my Facebook page!

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