Central Database Prepares Scouts for Cookie Sales

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For most people, the process of buying Girl Scout cookies is simple: Order your favorite varieties from your local Girl Scout and then wait a few months for her to return to your doorstep with cookies in tow.


But for the Girl Scouts, the process is a path filled with a variety of challenges and a wide collection of people and resources, from the Scouts who take the orders to the bakers who produce the cookies to the truck drivers who ship the cookies to the troops who finally deliver them to customers.


For the Girl Scouts Patriots' Trail Council, Boston, which covers 65 communities in the Boston area, the complexity was great enough to improve the entire selling and distribution process. With its paper-based system, the council had 2,000 volunteers hand-tallying cookie orders collected by 18,000 Scouts as they passed from the Scouts to troop leaders and eventually to council headquarters. There was no accurate way to track the success of cookie sales and the final distribution of the product.


The annual cookie sale starts in January with individual Girl Scouts selling the treats, and cookies are sold at booths set up near local businesses through March. The council began using QuickBase for Corporate Workgroups in 2002 to better manage all facets of the cookie sale. The Web-based QuickBase system gave the council one centralized database in which order data are entered only once.


"One of the reasons we needed to change was there were so many levels of hierarchy," said Feza Oktay, principal of Dovetail Associates LLC, Needham, MA, who helped integrate the database into the council's operations and who formerly worked in the Girl Scouts. "Each level was doing quality control work on the previous level."


When introducing Intuit's QuickBase, Oktay said the council realized many of the volunteers who would use the system lacked computer and Internet experience. To ease fears and the transition to the new process, the council created custom Web pages in the interface.


"Even today, when volunteers sign into the Web cookie system, they wouldn't know they were in QuickBase," Oktay said.


A Web-based system like this lets all volunteers with user names and passwords enter and access the information -- and react to it. For example, if the system shows that sales are lagging in some locations, the council will know it needs to offer some incentives to reverse the trend.


"QuickBase has dramatically improved our ability to manage the sales," said Barbara Fortier, chief operating officer of the Girl Scouts Patriots' Trail Council. "It used to take two to three weeks to see how we were doing. Now we can, at any time, do a real-time assessment of where we are."


The council also can track the sales of individual Scouts and motivate them to reach a particular recognition level or sales goal. Analysis of sales data has even led to a restructuring of recognition levels.


Before using QuickBase, troop leaders literally gave up their dining room tables to add up the orders. Now they can extend the sale period because it takes less time to enter the information and forward it to the baking company. It used to take five to six weeks to complete the paperwork for the cookie orders, but this has been reduced to five days. It also took three weeks to prepare the delivery information, but that's down to less than a day.


Fortier said QuickBase also helped eliminate thousands of paper-based order cards and improve the accuracy of numbers. Though she didn't think the system helped increase cookie sales, they can recruit volunteers more easily because of having a computer-based system.


Bakers now receive the orders in two days instead of three weeks. Customers get their cookies sooner, and order fulfillment is more accurate. Each town identifies a location where its cookies will be delivered, and that information is loaded into the QuickBase system and forwarded to the trucking company.


"During delivery week, the troops can print out what cookies they need and match them to their orders," Fortier said.


Some troops order extra cookies, and the system lets them know what they have available to sell. The financial side of the process, in which the troops have to pay the council for cookies they have sold, has improved as well. Before, "we chased money for months," she said. Now the council goes online and transfers money from a troop bank account to the council bank account.


Marji McClure covers CRM and analytics for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


marjimcclure@sbcglobal.net


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