Crunch time for Girl Scout cookie sales

Plus: ABC board discusses secret plan for curbside liquor pick-up; Cooper to ease Covid restrictions; Raise for CMS superintendent; Belk files for bankruptcy; Spectrum undercuts Spectrum's pricing

Good morning! Today is Wednesday, February 24, 2021. If you like The Ledger, why not tell a friend? This post is sent to paying subscribers only.


Young ‘cookie bosses’ shake up sales tactics during pandemic with online jingles and Grubhub deal; expert offers pro tips

With face-to-face transactions discouraged because of Covid, Girl Scouts are learning a new kind of sales this year as they distribute the Do-si-dos. We asked a sales expert to weigh in on how he’d peddle the sweet treats many of us crave this time of year.

by David Griffith

The knocks on the door come like clockwork every February in many Charlotte neighborhoods — a green sash-clad Girl Scout arrives with an order form or a wagon of Thin Mints and Samoas in tow, cheerfully ready to make a sale.

That approach crumbled in 2021. The Covid pandemic shelved door-to-door sales and reduced the number of booths that scouts set up at shopping centers, churches and public events.

Instead, troops are turning their sales energy to the internet and mailbox or doorknob fliers, touting a contactless delivery service that the scouts have long had, but never relied on.

And while the change caused by the pandemic wasn’t one that anyone would have asked for, local Girl Scouts of the United States of America leaders say it’s presented an opportunity to teach girls about modern sales and entrepreneurship.

“A huge cornerstone of the girl scout experience is teaching girls to be leaders in their own lives, and we are seeing this crazy huge surge in innovation from our cookie bosses,” said Eden Creamer-Hurdle, marketing and communications manager for the Charlotte-area Hornets’ Nest chapter of the Girl Scouts.

Crunch time for online sales: Online cookie sales aren’t new to the Girl Scouts, but they’ve heated up this year.

Since 2014, Girl Scouts have been able to set up virtual stores on a platform called “Digital Cookie,” offering each scout a unique URL to customize and market their own sales. As you’d expect, Creamer-Hurdle said the online marketplaces have been used far more this year than ever before.

To spread the word about cookie sales, scouts — and their parents — have taken to social media sites like Nextdoor and Facebook to post links to their URLs alongside videos and jingles.

And many are still using an old-fashioned shoe leather approach, although instead of ringing doorbells, scouts are leaving signs and door hangers directing customers to their online sites, then dropping orders off on doorsteps for contactless delivery.

The Ledger has spotted enterprising face-masked Girl Scouts selling cookies to drivers in gridlocked Chick-Fil-A lines and walking miles through suburban neighborhoods to put fliers in newspaper slots.

The Girl Scouts’ corporate leaders recognized the need to bolster the availability for online sales. So they created resources on Digital Cookie for people with the munchies to enter a town or zip code and pull up a list of the nearest troops, with links to buy the $4 and $5 boxes of cookies. If cookie booths are happening in public places, that information comes up, too.

Girl Scouts of the USA also struck a deal with food delivery service Grubhub, allowing cookies to be purchased on the delivery app while routing the sale through the local troops.

An expert weighs in: So, how would a sales expert handle cookie sales in a pandemic year?

We asked Ian Farmer, president and managing supervisor for marketing firm IF Associates Inc., to analyze the Girl Scouts’ new tactics and to tell us how he would rally the troops to keep cookies selling like hotcakes.

Here are his tips:

  • Use social media. Social media engagement is critical, and on this front, Farmer said, the Hornets’ Nest council is doing great with the support of the Digital Cookie online platform.

  • But keep a face-to-face element, if possible. It’s harder for people to say no to a direct inquiry than to ignore a mass message, Farmer said. Because in-person sales are harder this year, sending videos individually to friends and family is ideal, and videos should feature two things, he said: the seller’s face, and some boxes of cookies in clear view.

  • Speak with confidence. This is a key of sales that never gets stale, he said.

  • Make buying easy. This is one trick the Girl Scouts have also fully baked, because the Digital Cookie links and Grubhub initiative allow buyers to purchase cookies with minimal effort and get them delivered right to their doorsteps.

New lessons: While the Girl Scouts have made the most of a different kind of cookie season, Creamer-Hurdle said there are some parts of the experience that are missing.

For one, it’s harder to gauge success and learn what to do differently.

“When you knock on your next-door neighbor’s front door, they either open the door or they don’t,” she said. “When you send someone a link, it’s harder to know whether they click on it or not.”

She said the most important part of continuing the cookie sales in the pandemic was making sure they could be used a learning opportunity for the scouts.

“Allowing them to learn what it takes to think through potential risk factors and mitigate them while they’re running their cookie business is an awesome opportunity,” she said.

Usually, these lessons come in the form of how to conduct face-to-face interactions. Through cookie sales, girls learn how to look someone in the eyes, talk about the different products and answer questions about details like pricing and which cookies are gluten-free.

This year? Their sales pitch is being recorded in front of an iPhone instead.

David Griffith is a reporting intern for The Ledger.

Calling all (online) Girl Scout cookie pushers:

Know a Girl Scout with a great online sales pitch? Send us a link to your scout’s cookie sales video, and we may publish it in a future edition of The Ledger. (Milk not included.)

Send us your cookie sales pitch


Liquor board discusses drive-thru ABC stores

The day might be approaching when you can order your bottles of Absolut and Crown Royal on your phone and swing by the ABC store to grab them without leaving your car.

In an attempt to catch up with the rest of the retail industry, the Mecklenburg County ABC Board is apparently exploring the possibility of online ordering and curbside pickup.

A discussion item on the board’s agenda last week was listed as “Online Ordering-Curbside Pick-up Messaging/Plan Strategy Overview.” Intriguing, no? Suggests something is in the works?

The ABC Board’s spokeswoman, Julia Roddey Paul, said via email Tuesday that there is no more publicly available information to be had — even though the topic has been discussed by the board and there’s apparently enough of a plan to talk about “messaging.” In an email to The Ledger, she wrote: “At present, we do not have anything to share as it is only in discussion at this point.” She did, however, place us on a media list “for announcements once we get closer to any roll out of enhanced customer services.” [UPDATED 2/25 10:48 a.m.]

North Carolina’s alcohol laws are notoriously strict. They generally don’t allow alcohol to be sold online. But online orders rung up at an ABC store register, with employees verifying the identity of the curbside purchaser, could meet the requirements. The state ABC commission has received requests from local boards seeking clarification of the rules, a spokesman said.

Expanded hours: One thing the board did say this week, via news release, is that it is resuming its usual 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. business hours starting this Saturday, with up to 25 customers allowed in the store at once. Cheers to that. —TM

Related Ledger article:

Why liquor from the ABC store costs so much” (March 20, 2019)


You Ask, We Answer: Send us your burning🔥 Charlotte development questions

Have you ever driven by a patch of land and been surprised to see bulldozers, or wondered what happened to a construction project that was announced 🚧 but never finished?

In a new occasional feature called “You Ask, We Answer: Charlotte Development🏗️,” we invite you to write us with your burning Charlotte development questions. There’s no rezoning request we can’t track down; no land sale we can’t sniff out.

Send us a development question

We’ll start with this question sent by a reader:

I am interested in what the plans are for the property formerly called Corner Creek Farms, located at the corner of Wade Ardrey & Ardrey Kell Roads, directly across from Ardrey Kell High School. Supposedly the property was purchased several years ago by Char-Meck Schools.

Our reader is right. The nearly 37 acres was purchased by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in 2019 for $13.2M, in an effort to reduce overcrowding at nearby Elon Park, Hawk Ridge and Polo Ridge elementary schools. It was part of a school bond package that voters approved in 2017.

CMS spokeswoman Eve White gave The Ledger this update last week:  

We are starting design on the elementary school now.  Construction will start spring of 2022 and we are scheduled to occupy in August of 2023.

CB


1 Spectrum internet package, 2 wildly different prices. Why?

If there was an award for the company with the most prolific — er, incessant — marketing in Charlotte, it would have to go to Spectrum, the division of Charter Communications that provides broadband internet, cable TV and phone service to millions of Carolinas households.

Spectrum ads clutter our mailboxes almost daily in the form of letters, postcards and brochures, making them the white noise of marketing that almost becomes invisible over time. (Not to mention the phone calls, TV ads and door-to-door sales the company deploys.)

Last week, we happened to glance at two offers that arrived in some Charlotte neighborhoods on the very same day. Both offered the same service: 400 Mbps internet service for 2 years with free modem, with offer expiration dates within one day of each other.

But here’s what raised our eyebrows: One offer was $29.99/month, while the other was $49.99/month. Same offer, same company, same length of service — a whopping $20 per month cost difference.

We took the “how can this be?” question to Spectrum’s PR department, hoping for a peek inside the workings of the Spectrum marketing machine. We sent them copies of the two fliers, along with two Charlotte addresses that received both on the same day.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get much of a peek.

A Spectrum spokesman, who asked not to be named, offered only this explanation:

Both addresses are eligible for the $29.99 Ultra internet offer, but looks like mail was executed before the new offer became available so they got 2 different mail pieces. These offers have limited availability and will only be available for a limited time. If they want to sign up online or through another channel, they should be able to receive the $29.99 Ultra Offer. Sorry for the confusion.

When we asked for clarification, he boomeranged the same statement back.

The takeaway? There isn’t much of one. If you’re thinking of going with Spectrum, rifle through all the fliers you get until you find the best deal. If you call to sign up, keep pushing for a lower cost, because agents will negotiate.

And if you’re just tired of the marketing messages, you can use this link to opt out of Spectrum’s mail, phone calls and doorbell solicitations. — CB


Belk files for lightning-quick bankruptcy protection

As expected, Charlotte-based Belk filed for bankruptcy protection on Tuesday evening, part of a quick financial restructuring that will reduce debt and attract new capital.

The company announced the turnaround plan last month, using a move known as a “prepackaged” bankruptcy. With the bankruptcy filing anticipated this week, Belk has been the subject of several nice pieces lately that examined its importance to the Charlotte region — such as those by The Observer over the weekend (subscriber-only) and by Axios Charlotte on Tuesday.

Belk filed for bankruptcy in Houston. According to Bloomberg:

Belk expects to hold its confirmation hearing Wednesday morning and to have its plan confirmed later that day, allowing it to complete its bankruptcy in around 24 hours, according to a person with knowledge of the company’s plans.

Ledger’s take: These financial moves buy Belk — and its owner, private-equity firm Sycamore Partners — more time by pushing out due dates of loans. But it’s going to have to make some additional tough moves to stay afloat longer-term, because the outlook is not bright at the moment for traditional department stores. —TM


Charlotte honored as test market for Taco Bell ‘Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco’

Restaurant Business Online reports:

The sandwich, or taco, will feature white meat chicken marinated in jalapeno buttermilk and then seasoned with Mexican spices and rolled in tortilla chip coating. It will then be wrapped taco-like in puffy bread and featuring a chipotle sauce. There is a spicy version with jalapeno slices.


Will Orr idea take flight?

Readers seemed to like the idea, floated in a Ledger article on Monday by Charlotte airline journalist Ted Reed, of naming something at the airport after longtime airport director Jerry Orr.

A sampling of the responses:

  • “I am in total agreement with your article on naming a piece of the airport in honor of Jerry Orr. Count me in as an avid supporter of that excellent idea.”

  • “Great article by Mr. Reed. I worked directly for Mr. Orr. He taught me more about building relationships, managing people and the budget than anyone before or since. He is the best boss I ever had, and I consider him a true friend. It is definitely time to do something.”

  • “Thank you for this morning’s accounting of Jerry Orr’s path to being fired. Such a disappointment. Such a disgrace. …  I vote we name it Jerry Orr Airport. After all, he jumped in, grew it in his imagination and ability to see it flourish. … Go Jerry Orr Airport, you are our captain. You gave your heart and sweat and took us into the future because you could. Thank you, SIR.”

Orr weighs in: And right as we were putting the finishing touches on Monday’s article, we heard back from Orr himself — but his quote didn’t make it into the newsletter version (we updated it online).

Asked to comment for the article, Orr replied: “I always tried to do my best for my people and the people of Charlotte. I ran the airport like it was my own business.” —TM


In brief

  • Restrictions expected to ease: Gov. Roy Cooper plans to hold a 2 p.m. news conference today at which he is expected to announce an easing of Covid restrictions. A reporter for Raleigh TV station WRAL says an unnamed source close to Cooper says the governor will “ease restrictions on high school and college sporting event capacity” and might also “allow some indoor seating at bars and ease alcohol curfew restrictions.” High school football season starts this week. Covid numbers have been plunging for about a month. (Cullen Browder on Twitter)

  • Toll collector: The private operators of the I-77 toll lanes in Mecklenburg County collected $16.5M in tolls in 2020, its first full year of operation. I-77 Mobility Partners recorded $5.3M in revenue in the 1Q, $2.2M in 2Q, $4.1M in 3Q and $4.8M in the 4Q. It’s unknown how those figures compare to earlier estimates because the company does not share projections. (Business North Carolina)

  • Election postponement recommended: North Carolina’s top elections official recommended that lawmakers postpone municipal elections for a year because of delays in receiving census data needed to redraw election maps. In Charlotte, City Council seats and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools seats are scheduled to be on the ballot this November, along with possible bond votes and a potential sales tax referendum for transit. (WFAE/AP)

  • Winston’s contract extended: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston was granted a new 4-year contract by the school board Tuesday, with a 3% raise that increases his pay to $288,400. It also adds a 24-month severance. Winston became superintendent in August 2019. The board voted 8-1 for the new contract, with Sean Strain being the lone “no” vote. Board chair Elyse Dashew praised Winston’s management during the Covid crisis: “I see that rapport and that trust that you have with the staff of CMS. And I think that part of why we’ve held together ... through this pandemic is because of your integrity and your style of leadership.” (Observer)

  • City ASC funding in question: The Charlotte City Council is considering redirecting the $3.2M it gives the Arts & Science Council and giving it directly to arts groups. Under a city council proposal, funding for the arts would increase to $4M but would be targeted at institutions that operate in city-owned buildings like the Mint Museum and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts & Culture. Also this week, the ASC released its Cultural Equity Report, in which it apologized for earlier policies that it said excluded people and communities of color from mainstream arts and cultural funding. (WFAE)

  • Asset management sale: Wells Fargo sold its asset management business to private equity firms GTCR LLC and Reverence Capital Partners for $2.1B. It’s “the biggest shake-up at the U.S. bank since former Bank of New York Mellon top boss Charles Scharf joined as chief executive officer in 2019,” Reuters reported.

  • Private equity: A new Charlotte private-equity group has formed that is backed by Hugh McColl Jr. The company, Paradise Equity Partners, hopes to raise $100M to invest in sports, entertainment and tech companies and is led by Robert Mackey, who formerly worked at the Charlotte offices of Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. (QCity Metro)

  • Northlake exodus: Dick’s Sporting Goods recently closed its store at Northlake Mall. It was one of Northlake’s anchor tenants. Northlake has more than a dozen empty storefronts. (Biz Journal)

  • Housing density opposition: The most contentious part of the city’s proposed 2040 comprehensive plan appears to be a proposal that would allow duplexes and triplexes on lots where only single-family housing is allowed today, judging by comments by City Council members on Monday. Some affluent neighborhoods have started GoFundMe accounts to hire lawyers to oppose parts of the plan that would allow greater neighborhood densities, council members said. The plan is scheduled for a public hearing next month and a vote in April. (Biz Journal, subscriber-only)


Programming note: Ledger editor Tony Mecia appears as a guest on 90.7 WFAE at 6:40 a.m. and 8:40 a.m. on Thursdays for a discussion of the week’s local business news in the station’s “BizWorthy” segment. Audio and transcripts are also available online.


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Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN AdvisoryReporting intern: David Griffith

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