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Birth of a Salesman: The Girl Scouts' Cookie Queen

September 08, 1985|BETTY CUNIBERTI | Times Staff Writer

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — In a campaign that lasted less than two months, 13-year-old Elizabeth Brinton sold more than $25,000 worth of Girl Scout cookies this year. That's an all-time single-season high of 11,200 boxes.

In cookie circles across the nation, and here in this tranquil Washington suburb, she has become such a celebrity that mail addressed to "Elizabeth Brinton, Cookie Queen, Falls Church, Va.," is delivered right to her house.

The Girl Scouts U.S.A. national governing body does not keep official sales records. But having sold 36,000 boxes since she began knocking on doors and stalking subway stations at age 6, Elizabeth is widely regarded as the greatest Girl Scout cookie seller of all time.

"I don't want to brag," said Elizabeth, giggling at the thought, "but it's true."

So how does a 104-pound pixie sell 11,200 boxes of cookies?

Very aggressively.

Stalking Subways

Piling cases of cookies all around her in a chocolate-coconut-peanut butter fortress, she did much of her selling in crowded subway stations as people descended on escalators, or, even better, while they stood waiting for buses at rush hour.

"I do pretty outrageous things. I make weird comments," said Elizabeth, who took advice from her mother, Noel, who sells real estate. (Her father, Fullerton, is a government computer consultant and she also has a sister, Heather, 15.)

"My mom told me, 'Look them in the eye, talk to them personally and speak up.' "

So Elizabeth spoke up.

"I would say, 'They're tax-deductible. We take checks.' And when someone pulled out a check, I'd say, 'Why not buy a whole case?' "

If people replied that they could never eat that many . . . "I'd say, 'You can freeze them.' "

Or, a common dodge: If they didn't know which of the seven kinds they would like, "I said, 'Why not buy one of each so you can find out?'

"If a man was walking with a lady, I'd say, 'Show you care! Buy Girl Scout cookies.' To the Army or the Navy I'd say, 'Fly with Girl Scout cookies' or 'Bring some back for your shipmates.'

"A man from the USO bought four cases. But another lady I had to push and push and push. Sometimes they try to sneak past you and you look them in the eye and make them feel guilty."

For six weeks, this went on every day after school from 3 to 8 p.m., every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

"All I did was sell cookies, do my homework, eat and sleep," said the teen-ager, adding that her grades dropped from Bs to Cs during this time.

No Time for Boys

"I met two boys selling cookies and they asked me to the movies," she said. "But I couldn't go. I had to sell cookies."

There were not very many places that Elizabeth considered off-limits for the hard-sell. Invited with some other scouts to a White House St. Patrick's Day celebration, she found herself standing next to Secretary of State George P. Shultz and White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan, who commented about her many Girl Scout merit badges.

Elizabeth worked into her reply, "I sell cookies. You want to buy some?"

While some older scouts shushed her, horrified at the breach of etiquette, Regan answered, "Mr. Shultz has to watch his health."

Short-Term Goal

Her No. 1 short-term goal, she says, is to sell a box of Girl Scout cookies to President Reagan, whom she met (and hugged) when, already noted for her salesmanship and other Scout activities, she was selected to light the national Christmas tree last year. At that time the cookie drive was still months away, so she didn't put the hit on the President.

Pictures of her with the President and Mrs. Reagan decorate her bedroom wall, right next to a photo of Phyllis George, who had interviewed Elizabeth on "The CBS Morning News." ("She was very nice. She wasn't artificial," Elizabeth said of the oft-maligned, former morning show host.) One had to peek behind the Girl Scout's bedroom door to discover the more common teen-age interior decoration: a poster of rock singer Rick Springfield. A huge teddy bear sits at a desk staring blankly at the computer she won for selling cookies.

During the cookie drive, Elizabeth wrote a letter to her congressman, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), enlisting his help in selling cookies to Reagan. (She had worked on both of their campaigns, distributing literature. "I'm a Republican," she explained.) Wolf wrote her a long reply lamenting his inability to persuade the diet-conscious President to ante up for a box.

But she has other more important items on her long-term agenda, or, as she says, "pretty outrageous goals." She listed them in order of preference.

Actress First, President Second

"Number one," the youngster said, "I want to be an actress. Number two, the first woman President. Number three, a veterinarian. Number four, own a business. The problem is, I don't know what kind of sales I'd do."

Elizabeth became interested in her cookie venture after reading about a Girl Scout in New York who had sold 10,000 boxes last year. Elizabeth had sold 8,000 once and decided she wanted to top the 10,000 mark.

She also says that selling the cookies gives her an outlet for her acting talents, which won her the lead role of Dorothy in the school play, "The Wizard of Oz."

"My mother thinks it's outrageous that I want to be an actress," Elizabeth said as her mother rolled her eyes in exasperation. "I have acted since I was 5 years old."

As for the cookies, Elizabeth does eat a lot of them herself.

"I love 'em," she said. "During cookie season I eat and eat them. Then I get sick of 'em."

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