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“Hey! Wanna buy a bag of cub scouts popcorn? It’s only twenty dollars.”


It was very hard to say that to people without blinking. It was much easier for my son to say it. To him “twenty” is just a number. It’s not lunch or a fraction of a car payment. He’s a much better cub scouts popcorn salesman than I’ll ever be.

Over the course of a month, both of us had to put our shyness aside. Now, we have only three bags left in a box that was once full of dozens of bags among a bunch of other boxes full of dozens of bags. Looks like we made our goal and he’ll be able to participate in the pizza-party/scoutmaster-dunking or whatever goofy thing was offered as the inducement to humiliate ourselves in front of grocery stores.

We didn’t participate in the popcorn sales last year. My son had just started in Scouts and I was still getting my bearings as a “Scouting Dad.” When I had to deal with these fundraising things before at his school I’d just say “we can’t participate in the cookie dough/magazine/fetus key-chain promotion, but please take this check as a contribution to your cause.” That didn’t wash with the Scouts. They were looking for us to make a $700 vig. They’re looking for good earners in the Scouts. Not just some two-bit hoods with ten dollars from daddy. Fuggetaboutit.

So we loaded the pickup with boxes of popcorn bags with pictures of ideal, smiling boys plaintively offering delicious-looking kernels in hopes strangers would fund their annual camp-out and give them the opportunity to humiliate a grown man in shorts while eating pizza. I thought it would be a good opportunity for my son to learn to make the sale.

Life is about sales, no matter who you are. Online, I talk to a lot of students going into things like engineering and microbiology and counselling. They scoff at my assertion that sales is everything. I counter with this: “When you’re trying to convince someone to give you a job, or an assignment, or funding, you are giving them the information they need to make their decision, but you are also persuading them by gaining their confidence and charming them in a way. You’re convincing them that you are the right person with the right product and they must take action, now. That’s sales, you a-holes.”

Sales is thus an invaluable life-skill I felt my son needed to learn.

And here is what we learned selling twenty-dollar bags of popcorn:

  • A smile still works wonders.
  • The phrase “can you help me?” — especially in the voice of a small child — melts hearts and overcomes resistance
  • “Hustle” helps. There’s an infectious quality to urgency. One of my favorite harangues to my son became “YOU ARE WALKING LIKE YOU ARE IN A FUNERAL PROCESSION!”
  • Most people want to be generous. They really want to help. The most generous people are those who appear to be least able to afford it. Be nice to everyone. Everyone is a potential customer.
  • Karma is a motivator.
  • Noticing and showing interest in the potential customer always helps. A nice comment on a scarf, t-shirt, or shoes humanizes the pitch and virtually demands a response.
  • If you believe in what you are doing, and what you are selling, your results increase tenfold. My favorite pep talk to my son was “Think of the little boys who want to join Cub Scouts but whose parents can’t afford the dues. That’s who this is going to help.” Suddenly it became not just another dumb thing he needed to do. It became a cause. Even an 8-year-old can understand that.

So overall, a good experience I was glad to have with him. I hope that these early exposures to what it really takes to persuade and relate to others will help him through life. My bet is that they will, even if he becomes a microbiologist.

By the way, I’m on to selling copies of my debut novel. Check it out at Eye of the Diamond-T. Good karma awaits you.