Katie Francis knows how to hawk a Thin Mint. Over the course of her seven-year career, the Oklahoma City 16-year-old has sold 101, 106 boxes of Girl Scout cookies (including an impressive 15,499 boxes this year). It’s an accomplishment that earned her the title of top seller in Girl Scout history — as well as an appearance on The Tonight Show, where Jimmy Fallon bought the “record breaking” box. Now, her mom tells us, several companies have invited her to motivate their sales staffs — and she’s crushing that scene, too.
Fatherly spoke to Katie and her mother, DeLee, about cookie-selling accomplishments, sales secrets, and what it takes to inspire a 500 person sales team.
It takes a lot to put as many Thin Mints in people’s hands as you did. When were you inspired to set out and sell so many cookies?
Katie: It was kind of a gradual process. The first year I sold cookies, I was second in the state. And I found out if I sold the largest amount of cookies in the state, I would win money for a college scholarship to put in a 529 account. So I decided the next year I wanted to make the jump to number one. But I wasn’t sure exactly how many I needed to sell, so I just tried to sell as many as I could. I ended up selling about 7,000 and found out that I broke the [Oklahoma] state record. The next year, I set the state record again, so I decided I wanted to go out the world record. It felt like the next step. The record was 21,477 boxes, which I sold in 2014. And when I reached out to the woman who had set the record, Elizabeth Brinton, she told me she had been able to sell over 100,000 boxes for her career. So I decided to break that this year, which coincided with the 100th anniversary of the first known sale of cookies by Girl Scouts.
So what’s your sales strategy?
Katie: It takes lots of time. Every day after school and on weekends I go out and sell cookies. I love it a lot. One of the biggest pieces of advice I got from Elizabeth [Brinton] was to ‘think outside of the box.’ And for her, that was being the first girl in her area to sell in front of a grocery store. For me, that was maintaining relationships with my community. I have a spreadsheet of people I have sold to in years past that I can reach out to again to try to get another sale each year. But my favorite way to sell cookies is setting up in front of grocery stores, where I can sing and dance to get people’s attention.
On an average week, how many hours would you estimate you are selling cookies?
DeLee: It can vary, but on average, a weekend day she will sell 12 hours a day. On weekdays she obviously sells less, but it averages out to about 8 hours a day overall.
Katie: But in between all of this, I try to find time to do other things. Being in high school, I have a much fuller academic schedule than in the past. I also have a few competitions.
DeLee: She takes dance and music classes, and will go to competitions for those. I’m proud of her for being able to maintain a 4.0 GPA through all of this.
DeLee how involved are you in helping Katie out?
DeLee: Well, Katie does all the selling. Calling customers, making actual sales, that’s all her. I provide support. So I make deposits, make sure we have enough cookies, make sure the car is stocked, make sure her uniform is ready for the next day. Basically, I try to give her the tools to reach her incredible goals. The biggest support I offer is being on board with it, and when she first heard about the scholarship years ago, I saw a spark in her and I wanted to do anything I could to help her chase her goals. She was only in third grade, and she already wanted to do what she could to be the best in the state. So I helped make adjustments to her schedule to give her the opportunity to have the best season possible.
Kate, we’re sure you’ve had your share of big sales. What’s been the largest number of cookies someone has bought from you?
Katie: I sell to a lot of people and rely more on that than big individual sales. But the largest amount I sold to one person was last year when I sold 250 boxes to a man I had sold to years prior. He had never bought nearly that many. It was a shock when he told me he wanted to buy that many boxes.
DeLee: Most sales are two-to-three boxes at most, so this was extremely rare. You never expect the $1000 sale.
That’s a lot of cookies. What’s your personal favorite?
Katie: I generally don’t eat my product, but if one of my friends buys a box and I do have a cookie or two, my favorite is the Samoa.
Do you think you’ll use your skills in sales in the future?
Katie: I’m not sure what I want to do when I grow up, but I know no matter what I will use the many skills I’ve learned in the Girl Scouts no matter what I do in the future.
DeLee: She has also had quite a few public speaking opportunities, where companies have brought her in and had her give a speech and help train their salespeople. And she will get up in front of these audiences of over 500 people and is as cool as a cucumber. That stems directly from the thousands of people she meets by selling cookies.
What is the number one tip you give to these companies you’re brought in to motivate?
Katie: Attitude. There are days that are worse than others, but keep a positive attitude, because you never know when or how it’s going to turn around.
This interview has been edited and condensed.