Girl Scouts, Pot and Thinking Outside the Obvious

A Girl Scout in Los Angeles made the LA Times this week for setting up shop outside a pot dispensary. She sold 117 boxes within two hours, almost a box a minute.

Let’s pretend for a second that there aren’t adults in favor and adults against this young lady’s location choice — and just look at the location.

It’s an example of thinking outside the obvious.

For decades Girl Scouts have been going door-to-door throughout their neighborhoods and camping out in front of local grocery stores, Walmarts and other “family friendly” locations. These are the obvious locations — sell where other families might shop themselves.

When it was my turn, my sale-to-minute rate was along the lines of one box sold to every 20-to-30 minutes spent knocking on doors. That rate decreased as my age increased. The old lady on the corner had a large heart and an open wallet for the eight year old, but that 13 year old was shit out of luck because other eight year olds had taken her place…

Same low sales rate when selling in front of stores. Store shoppers weren’t there for Girl Scout cookies, and they usually didn’t arrive hungry, so cookies were often a pity or impulse buy — or because the seller was their daughter, granddaughter, neighbor, niece, best-friend’s daughter, niece’s best friend’s daughter, “best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend[‘s]” sister…

So where else to sell the cookies? I’ll leave that specific answer to the parents and Girl Scouts, but it’s a question to think about when selling your book or painting or film or album — or whatever it is you’ve created.

Years ago, I’d hear sales reps discuss “special sales,” which were along the lines of the pot dispensary. They were sales into places that weren’t bookstores, but sold books. Think Wholefoods, Restoration Hardware, Urban Outfitters, etc. — stores that either have a small book section or that use books as props, but also sell them.

I wouldn’t call them “special” anymore as they’re the way and not just a special way these days.

The mistake made with special sales is pitching places that seem obvious to the seller (Girl Scouts selling in front of grocery stores) but aren’t where some prime buyers are shopping (pot dispensary).

For example, I’ve listened to publisher after publisher complain about not getting their military-related/themed books into military base exchanges. To them, the most obvious audience is the active-duty military community. Afterall, if someone is in the military, they must spend all their free-time reading about military-related topics, too, right? And, the obvious place for them to buy these books is within the military exchange stores.

No.

Hit them where they hang out — not just where they work.

It’s the same idea behind seeing a Star Wars-themed book within the Star Wars-themed bedding display in Pottery Barn for Kids. The store itself isn’t the obvious go-to store for Star Wars fans, but… They shop there, too.

A few years ago I spotted a copy of a book from the Art of Manliness team, smack dab in the middle of a window display for a Las Vegas men’s store. It served as both decoration and product. Added to the window dressing and was for sale, too.

When you pull your possible sales list, don’t ignore the obvious. But, if a location and/or audience is obvious to you, it/they’re likely obvious and over-targeted by others, too.

What’s the place where can you sell almost one unit a minute in two hours?

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THE WAR OF ART

Read this one first.
It identifies the enemy—what I call Resistance with a capital “R,” i.e. fear, self-doubt, procrastination, perfectionism, all the forms of self-sabotage—that stop us from doing our work and realizing our dreams.
Start here.
Everything else proceeds from this.

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DO THE WORK

Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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THE AUTHENTIC SWING

A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

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NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.

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TURNING PRO

Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

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24 Comments

  1. Mary Doyle on February 12, 2016 at 6:15 am

    Great post Callie! While the credit for her location choice (setting aside the “for or against” argument) probably goes to the girl’s parents, she’s learned a valuable entrepreneurial lesson. Thanks to this post, so have we!

  2. Andrew Lubin on February 12, 2016 at 6:36 am

    The ‘for or against’ issue is an extraneous argument – talk about genius target marketing!

  3. Mia Sherwood Landau on February 12, 2016 at 6:37 am

    You had me laughing out loud, Callie! Hadn’t seen or heard about the LA Times article, but it was a perfect example of genuine, opportunistic entrepreneurship. As writers, we tend to be introverts, thinking we can avoid being opportunistic, and we can just leave all that to the born opportunists. No way, it’s us or nobody now. I will remember this as, The Girl Scout and The Pot Heads.

  4. Doug Keeler on February 12, 2016 at 7:25 am

    I have sold a ton of ebook versions of my mystery SAVANNAH GONE to folks who belong to online yard sale groups on Facebook, particularly in the Savannah area. I post the book link along with a catchy blurb or review, & it sells numerous copies every week to people who otherwise might not have heard of my novel.

    Got to love that girls ingenuity!
    http://www.dougkeeler.com

  5. tomRmalcolm on February 12, 2016 at 8:44 am

    …wow, how clever is that?! This falls in to the, “damn, I should of thought of that” bucket.

    But I won’t forget it!

  6. David Kaufmann on February 12, 2016 at 11:21 am

    Thanks for the post, the personal anecdotes, and the valuable lessons learned. Outside the obvious indeed.

  7. Tina Goodman on February 12, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    I recommend pushing brownies year round at the pot shop.

  8. Lorene Albers on February 12, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    …. and because, as most of us know, pot gives you a really healthy appetite… time for a brownie?

  9. Michael Beverly on February 12, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    Counterintuitive sometimes but the best place to be is right next to the guy selling a book very similar to yours.
    What some people mistake as competition.
    My review of Shawn’s book included a plug for Larry Brooks, and sure enough it drove sales for Story Engineering.
    Fact of the matter is that if you’re reading The Story Grid and not War of Art and Story Engineering you’re being foolish (or naive — or have not done due diligence).
    Which makes me wonder: If I put plug for my own book in each review I write for other thrillers…would I be violating Amazon’s TOS?
    I better check that….anyone have a clue?
    Interesting….
    If I write a review within a couple days of a book coming out….it often perma-sits there for years, see Authentic Swing for instance, I’m pretty sure I’m still front page there.
    Hmmmmmm.
    Where’s Tim Grahl when you need him?

    • Brian on February 12, 2016 at 8:19 pm

      Michael,
      I totally agree. Starbucks has made it profitable for an infinite number of coffee shops in the Pacific Northwest, frequently within a 50 meters of one another. Looking for Home Depot? Siri the nearest Lowes, and it is likely within a few blocks.
      bsn

      • Callie Oettinger on February 13, 2016 at 11:01 am

        Brian,

        Thanks for your e-mail and bringing up this point.

        The same idea exists with gas stations. There are three gas stations on three of the four corners of an intersection near my home. All offer gas at the same price. Why go to one over the other? The decision has to do with the direction I’m traveling in. I’ll go to the station on my side of the road because I don’t have to sit at a red light, or do a u-turn to get around a barrier within the road – and it costs the same price.

        Best,

        Callie

    • Callie Oettinger on February 13, 2016 at 10:57 am

      Michael,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Authors have long plugged their books within comments sections of Amazon and other sites, and in site such as Wikipedia.

      The push back often occur when the plugs arrive outside the conversation taking place on the site. For example, I’ve seen authors spam the comment sections of other sites, posting comments such as “If you like x books, then you should check out my book Y, too.” Readers are savvy enough to know the person is trying to use another site to sell their own book – and their response is similar to when they receive SPAM e-mail. Ignore it.

      But if the comment adds to the conversation, and the book is mentioned within the conversation, there’s a different reception. An example of this resides within the op-ed section of newspapers. Authors of op-ed don’t mention their book/s within the op-eds, but their book is mentioned within the short bio at the end of their op-ed. This is why I’ve long been an advocate for op-ed writing. Readers of op-eds are often book buyers. If they like the op-ed, they’ll often check out/buy the book. It’s a way to plug their book, minus the SPAM.

      Callie

  10. Mitch Bossart on February 12, 2016 at 8:14 pm

    Airport. That was my first thought. Long flight, stuck in a seat–why not read something new and interesting?

    I imagine the potheads tended to buy at least two boxes of cookies. The first box would be completely consumed that day. Mint cookies. Eat those mothers a row at a time. Glass of cold milk. Heaven.

    Stash the others for later, dude.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Callie Oettinger on February 13, 2016 at 11:14 am

      Mitch,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I’m a fan of airport stores, too. I usually have something to read, but I’ve been stranded enough times that I’ve gone through my reading material…

      Another good airport idea: I was out of town during the snowstorm that hit the East Coast in January. My flight was one of the first ones in after the storm. While the runways were clear, the parking lot was a disaster. Lanes had been plowed between the rows of cars, but the snow from the lanes had been pushed right behind the cars. When I arrived in the parking lot around midnight, with sleepy kids in tow, I moment of panic struck when I saw my car. I didn’t have a shovel — and even if I did have a shovel in my car, I couldn’t open the trunk to get it because the snow was too high. Within a few minutes, two young men showed up with shovels. They knew flights were coming in and people would need help, so they were spending the evening (and I’m guessing the next day) in the lot shoveling out cars. I’m confident they were paid well — especially because they didn’t have any competition. Two young guys with a car, who had the idea to go to the lot as if they were parking within it, and then keep an eye on the buses dropping off people, to offer their help. The airport had a truck with a shovel to help passengers push the bulk of the snow from the back of their cars, but in my case, the truck arrived after the two young men — and it didn’t have the ability to clear right up to the bumper or clear under the tires and on the side.

      AND: Am with you on the Thin Mint cookies. A row at a time is easy to inhale! 😉

      Best,

      Callie

  11. Maggy Simony on February 13, 2016 at 7:45 am

    About 25 years ago, Banana Republic bought all my left over self-published copies of Traveler’s Reading Guide: Readymade Reading Lists for the Armchair Traveler, after I signed a contract to edit a new edition for Facts on File. Did they ever sell them at this hip (back then) clothing store? Haven’t a clue, I was glad to unload it all.

    • Callie Oettinger on February 19, 2016 at 8:08 am

      Maggy,

      Thanks for sharing your experience.

      How did Banana Republic learn about your book? Did you approach them or did they reach out to you? Just curious as I’m always curious about how many stores are thinking outside their own obvious, too.

      Best,

      Callie

  12. Adam Thomas on February 13, 2016 at 11:26 am

    Go to where the customers are, not where you think they should be. Go to where they are comfortable, and are ready to spend. Most business gets done on the golf course, not the super conference

    Thank you for reminding me 🙂

  13. Brian on February 13, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    Callie,
    I waited until this evening to read the post–the subject was so funny that I didn’t want to read it from my phone.

    Genius. As a former Jeff Spicoli wannabe, I laughed and laughed as I read the post. This young lady should work at the NY Times or some other ossified company. The insight. She must have an older brother…

    While I haven’t written a book, nor tried to sell one–I have learned a few things about selling with our animal rescue and race.

    Don’t know if this will translate to book sales, but…
    Last year we offered an ‘athletic partnership’. In short, we gave running clubs, gyms, studios, businesses, etc a registration code. If they got 10 people to register for our race (full list price), then we posted their logo on our website, gave them Facebook love, put them in our program guide, and gave them a 10×10 booth space at our race.

    Win/win/win/win. I get more participants, my participants learn about other organizations, my partners have a memorable event to build their own organizational cohesiveness, and they get to tell their story to hundreds of like-minded people.

    We rehearsed with 10 last year, and I’m pushing for 50 this year. Instead of me talking to 500 people, I convince 50.

    I also tell them that Unleashed at Stadium Bowl is the coolest race in the history of mankind, so, of course, there’s that.

    It took me until our 5th year to think of this strategy, and it seems so damn obvious now. Not sure if it is exactly outside the obvious, but it is our strategy going forward.

    Why did it take me 5 years? I didn’t know my business. Still learning to skate while trying to play hockey.

    Again, I don’t know how this will translate to books–but like Stephen has written–steal something. Maybe this will spark an idea for someone here.

    Have a great evening.
    bsn

    • Callie Oettinger on February 19, 2016 at 8:03 am

      Brian,

      Thanks for sharing the “athletic partnership.” I saw something similar when the team behind the documentary DARIUS GOES WEST sold credits for their film. For X donation, the person donating would have their name listed within the credits of the film. The dollar amount wasn’t high (I don’t remember the exact amount), so people jumped on board. I remember thinking they had to have a world-record for the length of their credits. End of day, they obtained the funding. We’ve seen the same done with books, too.

      Making these partnerships work, though, always comes down to relationships and quality. Is the product good? And, if it is good, who will share it?

      Thanks for always sharing your experiences!

      Best,

      Callie

  14. Tina Goodman on February 16, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    My novel is a thriller and is set in the Rocky Mountains. I have been to hotels in the Northwest that have small gift shops in them. That would be a good place for my book. Sometimes travelers want to relax and read, not do more travelling in the town where they are staying over night. Since there are animals in my novel (mainly mountain lions, but other predatory animals, as well,) Bear World outside of Yellowstone National Park could be a good place to sell.
    And, hospital gift shops. Patients need something to read, so do visitors who are waiting to see the patients.

  15. Katie Mullaly on February 23, 2016 at 7:07 am

    I have partnered up with a local art gallery here in Park City, Utah. My self-published children’s book has amazing illustrations (not by me) and of course a great story. This local gallery loves to support local art and so I sold my books to him at a good deal and he gives them away as thank you gifts for big art purchases. Also, my second book is about inclusion and accepting differences so I approached an organization that works with special needs kids and families and they sell my book and I routinely go there for readings.

    Great article! And like Adam said above, go to where the customers are.

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