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Smart cookies! How Girl Scouts develops entrepreneurs

Sydney, left, and Taylor Davis, wear their Girl

Bec Gathmann-Landini didn’t realize it then, but when she was a 5-year-old Girl Scout selling Thin Mints and Do-si-dos cookies door-to-door, she was learning a lesson in entrepreneurship.

The 35-year-old Baldwin mother of two, now the owner of Luna & Soul Yoga Collective in Long Beach and Garden City, who first donned the Girl Scouts’ Daisy vest in kindergarten, credits the organization’s iconic cookie program for inspiring her to become an entrepreneur.

"The cookie program was valuable because it taught me how to set a goal. I had to think about how many [cookie] boxes do I have to sell to reach that goal? Young women don’t always get those lessons," said Gathmann-Landini, whose studios employ 16 instructors who teach more than 50 in-person and online yoga classes each week. "I was a very shy kid, and you have to put yourself out there and ask for the sale. But the more I practiced it, the better I got … that’s the one thing I will always remember, every ‘no’ you get is closer to a ‘yes.’"

Bec Gathmann-Landini teaches a yoga class on Dec.
Bec Gathmann-Landini poses for a portrait on Dec.

Bec Gathmann-Landini, who teaches at the Long Beach location of her studio, Luna & Soul Yoga Collective, says Girl Scouts helped her blossom: “I was a very shy kid, and you have to put yourself out there and ask for the [cookie] sale." | Photos by Brittainy Newman

Gathmann-Landini and other Long Island Girl Scouts alumnae say the nonprofit youth organization for girls and its annual eight-week cookie program laid the foundation for them to become their own bosses.

Launched in 1917, five years after the Girl Scouts was founded in Savannah, Georgia, the cookie campaign is billed as the largest entrepreneurial program for girls in the world, teaching goal-setting, decision-making, money management, people skills and business ethics critical to running a business. Cookie sales fund not only the local Girl Scouts’ councils and troops’ camp and travel adventures but community outreach efforts, as well.

Alumnae praise the organization for helping them become successful business leaders who are socially responsible, confident and creative problem-solvers. They credit grade-level proficiency badges that focus on entrepreneurship — one of four core areas of the Girl Scouts’ experience, including outdoors, life skills and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) — as well as the emphasis on community service.

"No matter what you do, you need goal-setting, you need to know how to manage your money, how to build relationships, have people skills and business ethics. They are key to having a successful business or being successful in your career," said Randell M. Bynum, a third-generation Girl Scout and CEO of the Garden City-based Girl Scouts of Nassau County, one of 111 councils in the nation. "You learn by doing. It’s [the cookie program] a great way to experience these skills versus just reading about them on paper."

Growing problem-solvers

In a 2019 study by the Girl Scouts Research Institute, 79% of Girl Scouts had an entrepreneurial mindset — defined as being challenge-seekers and risk-takers who learn from setbacks and are curious learners, socially conscious problem-solvers, innovative and confident — versus 52% of other girls. Ninety-one percent of Girl Scouts said they were interested in becoming an entrepreneur versus 71% of other girls.

The Girl Scouts cookie program has caused some women to dream big. Celebrity business mogul Martha Stewart and Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, an international cosmetic, skin-care and perfume company, are just two business leaders who count themselves among the 80% of the 12.3 million female entrepreneurs who were once Girl Scouts, according to the Girl Scouts Research Institute.

"Girl Scouting leads to potential greatness in whatever career path you choose and is a remarkable place for a girl to test the waters on things," said Tammy Severino, interim president and CEO of the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County in Commack. "Because of that environment, our alums feel comfortable and confident in being able to start something they can take from concept to reality."

Channeling the business development skills she learned through Girl Scouts, Amanda Vigliarolo, 24, acquired in March 2019 the former Buon Amici Bakery in Smithtown, where she had worked during school recesses since she was 14.

"I always had an interest in wanting to sell something on my own," she recalled. "I didn’t know what kind of business, just that I wanted one."

While studying culinary arts, baking and pastry during her senior year at the Providence, Rhode Island-based Johnson & Wales University, the longtime bakery owner asked her if she would like to buy the business.

"I decided to hop on the opportunity," said Vigliarolo, of Smithtown, whose parents supported her decision. "It’s difficult to start a business, but this was an established bakery I knew so much about."

After earning a bachelor’s degree and returning to Long Island, she renamed the business The Whisk, gave the front of the store a face-lift and expanded its hours and product offerings. "I didn’t’ want the bakery to be a traditional Italian bakery that you find all over Long Island," she said. "I wanted it to be different; I wanted it to be a destination."

Soon after opening The Whisk, Vigliarolo invited a local Girl Scouts Daisy troop to tour the bakery and try their hand at decorating cupcakes and cookies. "I remember having those experiences as a young Girl Scout," she said, "and I really enjoyed them."

Lessons learned from the cookie program about knowing and believing in the product that she was selling, and viewing failure as an opportunity, she says, helped her become a successful businesswoman today.

"I learned how to get behind what I was selling, that I was selling for a good cause and that it was helping out the Girl Scouts," Vigliarolo recalled about her early cookies sales, which she credits with also boosting her self-esteem and confidence. "When you’re little, being able to convince an adult to buy something you are selling was a big accomplishment."

Shu Yang, an assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at Hofstra University’s Frank G. Zarb School of Business, agrees that Girl Scouts helps build the next generation of female entrepreneurs.

Girl Scouts’ experiences help a girl explore the world, solve real problems and closely work with other people, she said. "They learn how to build a team, expand networks and communicate effectively with all types of people. Young girls gradually learn who they are and want to be."

Siblings Taylor and Sydney Davis, 29 and 26, respectively, who joined the Girl Scouts as 5-year-old Daisies and earned the organization’s prestigious Gold and Silver awards for achievement, say the cookie program taught them how to think like entrepreneurs.

Taylor, left, and Sydney Davis, with clothing they
Sydney (left) as a Daisy Girl Scout and

Taylor, left, and Sydney Davis, who started an online clothing boutique during the pandemic, praise Girl Scouts for “creating a space for women in a male-dominated society,” says Sydney. In 2001, Sydney, left, was a Daisy Girl Scout and Taylor was a Brownie. | Photos by Linda Rosier; Celeste Davis

'Cookie' lessons

That entrepreneurial experience inspired Taylor and Sydney, while in high school and middle school, respectively, to launch Marisa & Morgan Catering, styled after their middle names. After school, the pair baked and sold vanilla- and chocolate-frosted cupcakes to their parents’ catering clients. "Cupcakes were trendy at the time, and we loved [eating] them," Sydney said, laughing.

Lessons learned from the cookie program continue to inspire their entrepreneurial spirit today.

During stay-at-home orders in 2020 when Taylor, a civil engineer, and Sydney, a care manager supervisor for a nonprofit, had "free time on their hands," they developed a digital boutique selling women’s apparel called Royce Essentials.

The clothing line is billed as "comfortable, work-from-home-type outfits" that can be dressed up or down and is available in sizes small to 3X. According to the retailer’s website, the brand unites "women of all shapes, sizes and colors with fashion."

"A lot of our experience in fashion is that the plus-size section is small and in the back. Even with other online plus-size boutiques, you have to click on another area of the website, and you don’t have a lot of options," said Taylor, who characterized their business as "taking off." "We don’t want [plus-size] people to feel like an ‘other.’"

The siblings, who live in Amityville, also praise Girl Scouts for "creating a space for women in a male-dominated society," said Sydney, who emphasized that the organization welcomes all girls and is committed to racial, religious and ethnic diversity and inclusion.

"We were able to thrive as minorities in Girl Scouting," she said. "Without the leadership skills and confidence and the ability to be creative when we were younger, I’m sure we would not have felt as comfortable creating our own spaces as Black women in the business world."

Ali Artz of Lynbrook got her first taste of entrepreneurship as a Girl Scouts Brownie selling cookies. And by the time she entered high school, she had started a handmade-jewelry business, selling necklaces and earrings to friends and at a local flea market for a couple of years until she enrolled in beauty school.

After graduation, she spent the next several years working as a licensed colorist for hair-color companies and then more than a dozen years at Ambiance Salon in Hewlett. In the fall of 2018, she "took a chance and asked to buy out" the salon owner. He said, "yes."

Since relaunching the business, Artz has been building her brand, expanding the salon and spa services, making continuing-education resources available for staff and even teaming up with Mondays at Racine, an Islip-based cancer care nonprofit that provides free salon and spa services every third Monday to women and men undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer.

"In Girl Scouting, there was always a business ethic and a push to be your authentic self and to be accountable," said Artz, the 40-something mother of two. "Girl Scouting stressed the importance of giving back and caring for your community. Giving of yourself has really come through for me from Girl Scouting and that’s how I apply it in my business."

View of Sueanne Shirzay's jewlery work station in
Sueanne Shirzay poses for a portrait in her
View of Sueanne Shirzay jewelry she has made
Girl Scouting, says jewelry entrepreneur Sueanne Shirzay, taught her the importance of pivoting when encountering a roadblock, a skill she employed in 2008, when she started selling her own designs. | Photos by Brittainy Newman

Do-si-dos celebrity

Girl Scouting also opened Sueanne Shirzay’s eyes to the world of entrepreneurship. Shirzay, 58, of Lido Beach, learned from an early age the importance of good customer service and how to take responsibility for her success and failures, lessons that have taken her far as the owner of Sueanne Shirzay Jewelry. The successful online gemstone jewelry boutique she founded sells necklaces and earrings she designs and crafts by hand.

Girl Scouting, she says, also taught her the importance of pivoting when encountering a roadblock.

Before launching her jewelry business in late 2008, she opened an art gallery in Island Park, selling paintings, photography and other jewelry designers’ creations. But when the financial crisis and recession hit that same year, she closed the gallery, anticipating it would be vulnerable to the economic downturn. Not long after, a local jewelry designer recommended she take classes in jewelry-making. Soon she began selling her own pieces on Etsy, an online marketplace, and then to retail boutiques, before launching her digital venture.

"I feel my artwork is expressing the creativity of my customers, not just mine," said Shirzay, who also sells on Facebook Shop and Instagram Shop. "Yes, I made it, but they chose it and how to wear it."

Olivia Phillips, 14, a Girl Scouts Senior, says Girl Scouting has shaped her entrepreneurial mindset and aspirations. The top regional cookie seller for the past six years, who is pictured on the boxes of Do-si-dos cookies, sold 5,500 boxes of the treats in 2021.

"When you are selling cookies, you’re running your own business, and you have to make people want to buy it," she said. "I sell online, I email repeat customers with the digital cookie link, and I also pick strategic places to sell and make huge signs, so they can’t ignore me," she said, laughing.

The budding small business owner hopes to pull out all the stops during the 2022 Girl Scouts cookie season currently underway and surpass her last year’s sales.

But Phillips is already thinking beyond the cookie program. The "creative" ninth-grader at William Floyd High School in Mastic Beach who says she excels in calligraphy, plans to embark on her first entrepreneurial journey this summer by selling her handmade greeting cards and banners on Etsy.

"I hope to take what I have learned from Girl Scouts and apply it to the business," she said. "I’m optimistic because a few people have shown interest in my work. I want to test the waters and see if it takes off."

Find cookies

The Girl Scouts’ famous treats feature several varieties of cookies, from Thin Mints and Do-si-dos to S’mores and Samoas. New to the lineup this year is Adventurefuls, a brownie-inspired cookie with a caramel-flavored crème topping. To buy Girl Scouts cookies, visit girlscouts.com, go to the "Cookies" drop-down menu and click on "Buy Girl Scout Cookies" to access the cookie-finder, where you can get dates and locations for cookie sales in your area.

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