Speaking as a good Girl Scout, Sara Larquier proudly explained the winning strategy that makes her the reigning Girl Scout cookie champion of the San Fernando Valley:
"It's always best to be in full uniform and don't forget to brush your teeth and comb your hair," the 10-year-old Burbank girl said. "But most of all, don't get annoyed when they turn you down. Say, 'thank you' and just turn around and make a face."
Last year, Sara's sales pitch and determination produced stellar results--she sold 1,273 boxes of Thin Mints, Caramel deLites and Peanut Butter Patties, more than any other Scout in the Valley region.
Every day after school for a month, Sara stood in front of a neighborhood grocery store peddling her boxes of Americana in full uniform. She tapped neighbors and family friends and her parents hit co-workers up to place cookie orders.
But in the end it was Sara, not her mom and dad, who did most of the work, said her parents.
"It was tough," Sara said. "It just wiped me out. At times, I didn't think I could get up the next morning."
During her long sales hours, she said she kept her eye on the prize--a ride on the Goodyear Blimp.
"I would say 'Mom, can I go home now?' when I was tired of standing in front of a store," Sara recalled. "And she would say, 'What about the blimp ride?' I would think about it and keep on selling."
Although Sara worked many long hours, her mother said she made sure her daughter kept up on homework. And mom gave her a break by cutting back on Sara's chores. "She made the commitment and we just made it happen for her," Charna Larquier said.
After last year's marathon, the Thomas Edison Elementary School fifth-grader decided this year to scale back her goals--aiming for a 900-box year. She has also adopted a new sales tactic for the current cookie sale, which lasts from January to mid-March.
In the new approach, Sara is supplementing door-to-door sales with tagging along with her mom to the Pickwick Bowl in Burbank, where she has found that hard-core bowlers are eager to buy her wares.
"My schedule is busier this year with basketball, softball and ice skating," said Sara, whose Girl Scout badges include a wildlife patch for her knowledge of survival skills and animal life and a service badge for recycling and picking up trash at a local park. "But my goal is 900 boxes this year, which is still a lot of cookies."
For most girls, the Girl Scout cookie campaign is their first venture into the oftentimes hard-knock world of sales. Official training instructions call for Scouts to always be accompanied by an adult, only sell from 9 a.m. to dusk and never enter the home of strangers or accept food or drink.
While keeping her sales-post vigil outside grocery stores last year, Sara learned to gracefully handle repeated rejections.
"They say, 'Not right now,' or 'I already bought' or 'I'll get some on the way out,' but I still say 'thank you,' " she said.
Sara is a member of the San Fernando Valley Girl Scout Council, one of 331 councils in the Girl Scouts of the U.S. Last year, 4,883 girls sold cookies in the Valley, with each selling about 100 boxes.
Since the early 1920s, Girl Scouts have been involved in cookie sales. The first documented councilwide cookie sale was in 1934. It proved so successful that by 1937 more than 125 Girl Scout councils had adopted the program.
Scouts peddling the $3 confections raised $1.6 million in the Valley alone last year, funds that return to the regional council and neighborhood troops, according to Kathleen Hare, spokeswoman for the Valley council. The Valley council received $725,596 and troops earned $214,725. The remainder went to overhead.
Cookie delivery day transforms the Larquier home into a small warehouse. In addition to Sara's own haul, Sara's mother has volunteered the home as the cookie drop-off point for 39 other Burbank troops.
On that day last year, a semi-truck dropped off enough cases to build stack upon stack of cookies on the front lawn and driveway.
"It is an extremely hectic day," said Larquier, a former Girl Scout. "A troop comes every 15 minutes, from 11 in the morning to 6 at night, basically nonstop."
Sara's orders alone amounted to four stacks her own height in the living room. To deliver her orders, she said she borrows a "little red wagon from the neighbor."
When Sara hit the sales trail last week, arriving with her mother at a Pickwick Bowl tournament, she made a bee-line for the repeat customers.
Dan (Pappy) Martin, a lifetime bowler at the alleys, smiled when he saw Sara, dressed to a T in her uniform, her brushed hair gleaming.
"Wanna buy some cookies, Pappy?" she asked sweetly.
She walked away with $15 in sales.
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Cookie Tidbits * Most popular cookie in the Valley: The Thin Mint (155,016 boxes sold last year)
* Total number of boxes of cookies sold in the Valley last year: 543,996
* Total number of boxes sold nationwide from September, 1993, to May, 1994: 166 million
* Price last year in the Valley: $2.50
* Price this year in the Valley: $3
* Amount of money each troop will receive: 45 cents per box
* Newest variety of cookie: fat-free Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Bar
Source: San Fernando Valley Girl Scout Council, Inc.