Some of my friends and I were recently reminiscing about the door-to-door selling we had to do as kids. For me, it involved going up and down my street in 10 degree February weather with my dad, mostly getting rejected by neighbors who had already bought their Girl Scout cookies elsewhere. For one of my friends, it involved trying to sell candy bars and light bulbs to support his Catholic school, while receiving a lot of long lectures about from people who “already paid taxes for schools” who weren’t crazy about the idea of funding a “rich kid Catholic school.”
All of us had negative memories of these experiences, which were supposed to leave us with a work ethic and an entrepreneurial spirit. No matter how fresh-faced you were selling door-to-door, the kids who sold the most were always the ones with highly-connected parents who sold them all at work. If anything, it taught us cynicism.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t better ways to get kids excited about business. As my friend pointed out, maybe that just didn’t work because door-to-door sales don’t exist anymore, for the most part. In a digitally-connected culture that has vastly changed since Death of a Salesman, why are we still just encouraging kids to start lemonade stands or hustle cookies and Christmas wreaths?
The one experience that might have actually been part of the reason I went into this industry was when I got to play The Stock Market game in elementary school. I picked all of my favorite brands at the time (McDonald’s and Coke) and faux-invested in them. Predictably, they did well. That experience of analyzing brands, looking at their relevance to culture and taking a stake in it was exciting – and it’s what I still enjoy as a creative at Zeus.
Aside from using new digital tools to make this a bit more exciting for modern kids, there are many more options for empowering their entrepreneurial instincts. What about starting an Etsy shop for a classroom and encouraging kids to sell their arts and crafts? What about encouraging kids to create a product and donate a portion of their sales to a charity of their choice, like the hugely successful Emi-Jay hair ties?
The Girl Scout brand is finally starting to expand its efforts to include retail shops and mobile apps that make it easier to order cookies digitally. Now that they’re beginning to leave the door-to-door model behind, they have to make sure they’re not leaving the kids behind as well. When I recently visited the Girl Scout shop at Mall of America, it was all manufactured merch, when I had been expecting something entirely different. Maybe more kid-made crafts, or a cookie shop that featured all kinds of crazy Girl Scout Cookie treats.
Children – and teenagers – are full of ideas. Why not give them more ways in? Creating and selling a product these days involves a lot more creative thinking, digital savvy and cultural understanding than it used to when the first Samoa was concocted. This means that the kids who aren’t great at in-person sales – or don’t have influential parents – can still play a large part in helping an idea become successful.