Smart cookies

Little Brownie Bakers, based in Louisville, Ky., makes the cookies sold by Girl Scouts in the Lowcountry. Each year they must bake three specific varieties: Thin Mints, Do-si-dos (known as Peanut Butter Sandwiches in some regions) and Trefoils (aka Shortbread). They may propose other cookie types to Girl Scouts of the USA for approval. Since 1974, these cookies have included:--Van'chos (1974-83).--Samoas (1974-present).--Tagalongs (1976-present).--Granola (1977-78).--Forget-Me-Nots (1979-81).--Chocolate Chunk (1981-88).--Medallions (1983-84).--Juliettes (1984-85, 1993-96).--Pecan Shortee (1985-87).--Echo (1987-90).--Country Hearth Chocolate Chip (1988-90).--Trail Mix (1990-91).--Chalet Cremes (1990-95).--Golden Nut Clusters (1991-93).--Snaps (1993-97).--Reduced Fat Chalet Cremes (1995-96).--Sugar-Free Chalet Cremes (1996-97).--Striped Chocolate Chip (1996-2000).--Apple Cinnamon (1997-2001).--Lemon Drops (1997-2001).--Aloha Chips (2000-03).--Ole Ole (2001-03).--All Abouts (2001-08).--Lemon Coolers (2003-06).--Double Dutch (2003-05).--Cafe Cookies (2005-07).--Sugar-Free Little Brownies (2006-07).--Sugar-Free Chocolate Chips (2007-09).--Lemon Chalet Cremes (2007- present).--Dulce De Leche (2008-09).--Thank You Berry Munch (present).The bakery is asking consumers to vote for a cookie to be brought back into production. Visit www.littlebrowniebakers.com.

The energetic 8-year-old runs to another front door and rings the doorbell. She walks in small circles on the porch while she waits. This time it might work.

As the door opens, she blurts out her well-rehearsed sales pitch in one breath.

"My-name-is-Julianne-would-you-like-to-buy-some-Girl-Scout-cookies?"

"Not tonight," the man in the doorway says, and Julianne Kubitz is immediately off to the next house, alternating between marching and cartwheels to get there.

Hearing "no" isn't so bad, Julianne says. "It doesn't really hurt me that much."

That attitude likely helped her become the second highest seller in the Girl Scouts of Eastern South Carolina's 21-county council last year.

So how many boxes did she sell?

"295 or 298," she says.

"Two thousand and fifty-nine," corrects her mother.

The Girl Scout cookie program kicked off this month and continues through Sunday for preorders. Booth sales will run Feb. 20-March 21.

Cookie sales have been part of many girls' lives since the tradition began in 1917. Depending on a woman's age, the memories of cookie sales can be quite different.

Three generations

Chris Hitopoulos sold cookies in the 1970s. She fondly remembers selling Thin Mints, Do-si-dos, Trefoils, a chocolate-chip cookie and a pecan shortbread from a booth inside the Meeting Street Piggly Wiggly on Friday afternoons and Saturdays. The cost was 75 cents per box.

"They're the easiest sell in the world," Hitopoulos said. "Everybody wants them, and you can only get them for two months. And they taste good!"

She said the experience helped her gain confidence and possibly steered her to a career in business. "I realized that if I talked it up, I got money for it. I would say that Girl Scout cookies were my first big sale."

Today, daughter Maria Hitopoulos is selling eight varieties of cookies for $3.50 a box. Like her mother, she'll go door-to-door and man a booth, but she'll also use a tool unavailable in the '70s: Facebook.

Girl Scouts aren't allowed to sell cookies online, but they can use the Web to get the word out that they're selling, Hitopoulos said.

The day before cookie sales began, Hitopoulos, who is the leader and cookie chair for her daughter's Brownie troop, posted to her Facebook page: "I have 26 cookie-selling Girl Scouts that I'm about to unleash on Charleston."

Next month, Maria will take a wagon full of cookies to sell around her peninsular neighborhood. Last year using this technique, she and two other Scouts sold 126 boxes in less than an hour.

"What they have going for them at this point is the adorable factor," Hitopoulos said. "They can sell a lot of cookies just by standing there next to a box."

Maria said she enjoys selling cookies. "We get to get with our friends, and we get to go out together. It's really fun."

Maria's grandmother, Joye Wall, was a Girl Scout in the 1940s. Her troop didn't sell cookies, but she became involved in selling them as cookie chair and later as leader of daughter Chris' troop. For three years in the 1970s, hers was the largest-selling troop in nine counties.

Back then, girls could go out and sell by themselves, Hitopoulos said. Today, they have to wait for an adult (who may work during the day) to be able to accompany them.

"It was a different time," Wall added. "It was easier to get out and sell."

This year for the first time, Maria will have to collect the money when she takes orders instead of when she delivers the cookies.

The local council, Girl Scouts of Eastern South Carolina, gave each troop this option, said CEO Loretta Graham.

"There has been some uncollected debt in the past, and this is just one way of giving troops the opportunity to collect upfront," Graham said. "It helps with tracking progress earlier in the sale to give troops a better idea of how close they are to reaching their goals."

Some of the money from cookies remains in troops, and some subsidizes the cost of providing Girl Scout programming in the community, Graham said. But the purpose of selling cookies is to help girls develop a range of skills.

"The Girl Scout cookie activity helps girls realize their full potential and become confident and resourceful citizens," Graham said. "Girls learn goal setting, money management and teamwork. Many successful businesswomen say they got their start selling Girl Scout cookies. Girls practice life skills like planning, decisionmaking and customer service."

History of cookie sales

The earliest record of Girl Scouts selling cookies was in 1917, when a troop in Muskogee, Okla., baked cookies and sold them in its high school cafeteria as a service project, according to the Girl Scouts of the USA Web site.

In 1922, a magazine published by Girl Scout national headquarters included an article written by a local director in Chicago. In it she provided a recipe for a sugar cookie and suggested troops sell the cookies for 25 or 30 cents per dozen.

Throughout the 1920s and '30s, Girl Scouts baked sugar cookies, packaged them in wax paper and sold them door to door.

The national Girl Scout organization began the process of licensing a commercial baker in 1936. By 1948, 29 bakers were licensed to bake Girl Scout cookies for councils across the U.S.

Three types of cookies were available in 1951 (Sandwich, Shortbread and Chocolate Mints, now known as Thin Mints) and seven types by 1979 (the three originals plus four additional choices that varied by baker).

Over the years, the number of licensed bakers has been streamlined to two "to ensure lower prices and uniform quality, packaging, and distribution," according to the Girl Scouts' Web site. Those bakers are Little Brownie Bakers and ABC Bakers.

The bakers can offer up to eight varieties of Girl Scout cookies, three of which are mandatory: Thin Mints, Peanut Butter Sandwich/Do-si-dos and Shortbread/Trefoils. They propose the other five varieties, which must be approved by the national Girl Scout organization and can change each year. Each bakery names its own cookies, which explains why some similar Girl Scout cookies have different names.

Stellar seller

Julianne has sold about 1,700 boxes so far this year. She didn't divulge any secret strategies for selling so many cookies.

"I don't have a secret," she said. "I keep on trying and trying my best."

Her mother, Joanna Bohanan-Kubitz, is also using Facebook to announce that her daughter is selling cookies, plus e-mail. These are much more efficient than calling her friends, Kubitz said.

Some Scouts also use their cell phone voicemail message to promote cookie sales, according to Graham.

Bohanan-Kubitz sold cookies herself in the 1980s. She said she was much shier than Julianne and sold most of her boxes to friends and family. She thinks she sold around 300 boxes each year at $2 or $2.50 apiece.

She also says there weren't as many prizes for selling cookies as there are now.

Julianne is hoping to sell as many cookies as she did last year, which is nearly seven times what her mother sold as a Scout. She wants to earn enough "cookie dough" to "buy" an iPod Shuffle for her dad or one of her brothers and a big stuffed panda for herself.

But if she doesn't, she says, it will be OK as long as she knows she tried her best.

Out on the street of a Ladson neighborhood, Bohanan-Kubitz follows in the dark behind her enthusiastic daughter.

This is how she gets her exercise every January, she quips.

Another front door opens. A man appears.

"My-name-is-Julianne-would-you-like-to-buy-some-Girl-Scout-cookies?"

He asks her to wait there a second, and a woman appears.

"My-name-is-Julianne-would-you-like-to-buy-some-Girl-Scout-cookies?"

Micki Graves would indeed like some cookies -- five boxes of them. She says a Girl Scout hasn't come by her house in three years, and she's glad to see Julianne.

"I don't like to try to go hunt 'em down, but I always preorder them when somebody comes by," Graves says.

Reach Kristen Hankla at 937-5548 or khankla@postandcourier.com.