Hearing ‘no’ when selling Scout popcorn can be worth something, too

Not all of Scouting’s lessons are included in the handbooks.

Case in point: Boys who hear “no thanks” again and again when selling Scout popcorn are actually learning something important.

That’s the theory of Scouter Trey Tompkins, who wrote a LinkedIn post called “Thanks for not buying popcorn from my son.”

The headline makes it sound like Tompkins is being sarcastic. But he’s serious.

True, those noes are no help to the Scout’s fundraising efforts, but they do offer something almost as valuable, he writes. They teach a lesson in sales and achievement.

In sales, no matter how good your cause is (or no matter how cute you are in your little Scout uniform) people don’t owe you anything. They have to have a reason to want your product or “service.” Most people who donated or bought popcorn told the kids that they wanted to support the Scouts because they themselves or their children had been Scouts. My guess is that they knew the good works that Scouting does for kids and it made them feel good to make a small investment in that.

I agree with Tompkins’ theory. Even if the Scout doesn’t go into sales as a career, he’ll still hear “no” a lot in life. But he’ll have the strength to keep his chin up and keep pressing for that “yes.”

Tompkins already sees evidence of that concept in his own son.

Over dinner, he told me that selling is hard work because you have to let so many people tell you “no” before you ever get someone to tell you “yes.”

You can read his full post on Scouting Newsroom.

What other lessons does selling Scout popcorn teach?

Share your thoughts below.

Hat tip: Thanks to the BSA’s Peter Self for the blog post idea. Photo from Flickr: Some rights reserved by CDavisWI


  1. Yes. Trey writes a good article. The lack of instant gratification is simply a fact of life, and tolerating frustration without getting angry or losing one’s poise is surely a facet of good character. The experience of his Tiger Cub son is a nice example of a lesson well-learned.

  2. I suggest Kernels, Cubmasters and Scoutmasters everywhere reflect on the popcorn sales with their Scouts in a debrief kind of meeting. Everything we do in Scouting is to build character and fundraising is one of them.

    Too often when we are deep in sale and worrying about popcorn orders and money and getting rid of extra corn and delivering, etc, etc, etc, it’s easy to lose sight of why we fund raise. Sure, it’s to provide the resources of the scouting program. But if that’s all it was, then we’d be no better that our children’s school, band or baseball fund raisers.

    Discussing what was hard, fun, easy, boring, necessary and unncessary with the scouts, even for 15 minutes in a den meeting or patrol leaders’ meeting makes popcorn sales and important and meaningful part of Scouting.

  3. Thank you – I have 3 kids who do various fundraisers throughout the year, and I get really tired of bringing those worksheets to work and bugging the same people over and over. this year, I just donated popcorn to the troops on behalf of my older son, so we didn’t have to bother with selling. My younger son, who is a Tiger, went to 2 show and sells and walked door to door with my husband. At the same time, we are selling fruit for marching band, so it was feeling a bit overwhelming. this article and the comments above offered some perspective that I lost this year. It isn’t always about volume of sales or money but life lessons in that fundraising is work and isn’t always easy, but it is needed for the success of the programs.

  4. I remember when popcorn sales started in the early 80s and the only product was a tub of popping corn. This year, for the first time in many years, a package of popping corn is available without being attached to a stadium seat, canvas shopping bag, or some other ridiculously priced item. Overall, I feel the items are overpriced.

    • They’re only overpriced if you don’t see it as a fundraiser. As one successful unit kernel said, “think of it as a donation to scouting with a bag of popcorn as our thank you.”

      • For a lot of people, donating $30 is a little too much for just receiving a box of popcorn. Most members of the public don’t see as it directly and fully benefiting the scout standing in front of them, and they would be correct. A large portion the scout never sees. If it wasn’t as expensive, more would be sold.

        • There’s the $10/$15 option. And then there’s the “we’ll take anything and apply it toward military popcorn” option, too.
          It’s all in the sales presentation and technique.

          And if it wasn’t expensive, money wouldn’t be made. Girl Scouts have to sell more boxes to make up for what we sell with one $10 caramel corn.

          I see this attitude all the time and it usually comes from a) inexperience and b) well…the attitude. Mostly, people put their attitude on the fund raising and think everyone thinks like that.

          People are willing to give and support scouting. The millions of dollars in sold product each year prove that. Time and time again, I hear of success stories with sales, scout growth, progress, etc. Scouts all over the nation sell $1,000, $2,000, $4,000 worth of popcorn (and 8 of the top 10 sellers were Boy Scouts! in 2012). So it is possible and doable. You get out of it what you put into it.

          All of those “no’s” the article is writing about come with a lot of “yes’s”, too. I find once a parent also invests time and practice, they, too, are successful. It’s a learning curve for everyone.

        • What we do is actually split up the boxes. We repackage them in packs of 3 and sell for $5. The $5 price tag make is easier to handle. The biggest sales time is at the car wash (not the fundraising car washes, but the regular car wash). Our local car wash (the next one is not in our state), they let us plug in a microwave, so we pop some up. So we have samples, and that really increases sales. Most of the time at car washes, people just stand around and wait so we have rather undivided attention. This is where we sell a lot of boxes. If you get the timing right, it’s easy fast and you can do a lot of sales. With a 6 hour period (we break the shifts in to two hours) we can easily make $3,000 to $5,000. Not to mention we get our cars washed for free. Store front sales usually average $1,000 but it takes 8 hours. I know Trail’s End also has these smaller packs, but we just get the boxes, break them up and make the packets on our own. Keeping stats is a good way to judge how much to get. I guess were just lucky, but often we get donations at these sales, where people give us money but take no popcorn. Or pay $20, and take only one. If we could get a microwave running, the product sells itself. Often microwave popcorn is super salty, but even Unbelievable Butter is not overly salted.

          The risk that we take is that what we don’t sell, we can’t return. We’ve also found the right volume to order, by keeping stats, so we don’t have much left over. Any left over, we pop them at meetings as snacks.

        • Caution: microwave bags are not marked for individual resale. Labeling laws could be an issue.

          Also, you think it’s easier to sell more $5 than 1 x $20 item. But consider this: a) you now have to make 4 sales for every one you might have had at $20 and b) you might have sold a $10 sale to the person buying the $5 repackage.

          The majority of people will always buy the lowest item “to support” a cause. If your lowest priced item is $15 or 10, then they’ll buy that. If it’s a donation, then they’ll give $1 or $2 or change in pocket and do that. If they don’t want to support you, then they won’t buy at all.

          I challenge you next year for the first couple of sales to NOT repackage, have a lot of $10 items (or whatever your lowest priced item is) and sell that way. Then compare to this year and report back.

          It feels like repackaging is a better option, but in the long run, it’s proven not to be. Plus the not marked issue above.

  5. SO … do you prepare your boys for the “no’s”? Or do you let the situation do the teaching?
    And , if the “No Thank You” comes with a reason, be it financial (too expensive) or political (you BS’s are too conservative) or religious (how come you don’t accept XYZ’s?) or societal (I can’t support such PQR’s that don’t LMN!) , how do you respond? Or do you let the boy respond and you ….. ?

    • Yes. Yes. Yes. and Yes. On going. All the time. Prepare when you can. Discuss after when you can’t. I default to letting the scout answer first. Sometimes they have great answers! But give them their moment. If you’re always there are the ready, they’ll never trust themselves in a situation when you aren’t there.

      Deut 11:19 “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

    • Wow , we must be lucky or really do live in a great town. The only “no” comments our pack have ever received have never included anything mentioned above unless one includes the occasional, “sorry, I just spent all my money in there,” when we are working a show and sell at a local store. So sorry your scouts have to deal with the things you stated.

  6. I let them know that they will get 20 NOs before they get a yes. That is with popcorn and expo cards.
    This year we were ready for I don’t carry cash. It is so funny hearing a tiger scout say we take credit cards. They shouldn’t even know what credit cards are.
    What gets me is the ones that refuse to say no they just keep walking like the kids don’t deserve to on the planet.

  7. Our Cubs (I am COR of one Pack and its Troop, and I am Cubmaster of another Pack and Assistant Scoutmaster of its Troop) seem to be rather unfazed by the nos. They seem to be enjoying themselves, and some ask to stay longer, if their friends are in the next shift. In the past 6 years, I’ve never seen other than polite scouts that seem to take the nos in stride. The best ones are usually involved in sports so they know how to lose.

    It’s usually the parents that can become the hard to handle ones. They come late and leave as soon as possible, sometimes early. They also grumble about the amount of sales that we request. Some always want to know how they’ll benefit, some even keep track themselves. We usually credit sales to the Cub events that you have to pay for, and some parents want to see our records to be sure their son’s is getting the credit and not benefiting those who sell less. But of course we also keep some for the Pack for our own costs. Of course, those are nowhere near the majority, it is usually a couple of parents.

  8. I too find that the kids take it in stride but do need some guidance in positivity. In other words, we always tell them to say “Have a nice day” or some other pleasant thing even when being ignored. Reminding them to be as chipper saying that as when they asked them to buy is a lesson too.

    BTW, we split our boxes open every year because our packs first few years trying to sell unopened boxes was not well received. Opening boxes increased sales dramatically.

    As far as opening for resale, at least 50% of the units in our area do it. If someone reports us I guess we have a problem. We still sell other products and our other big seller is $10 bags of caramel corn.

  9. My grandson was getting no’s and I told him to just tell the person to “have a nice day”. He looked at me with a question mark on his face. I told him that he may not sell them popcorn but your being nice may have them think and a few nights or next week because you were polite and respectful they may buy popcorn from the next scout to ask. A few minutes later a person heading into the store heard him being polite to those leaving the store, that didn’t buy, she stop to talk to him about it and give a donation, just as good as a popcorn sale.

  10. My son is 17 years old and still gets discouraged when he gets more “No” than “Yes” but he has learned to overcome the “No” by asking everyone he can when at store front and making eye contact with everyone. He puts a smile on his face and tells them “Thank You” when they say “No” we have even had people come back and buy because he was respectful.
    My biggest frustration is when people ignore him when he asks…..I get upset and want to chase them down and ask them to be more respectful, I don’t but I know it bothers him as well, he just shakes his head.

  11. I totally agree with this article! My daughter has learned a lot from the customers who have said No. It makes her work harder to reach her goals.
    When she was younger some customers used to sort of tease other customers who have said no to her “how can you resist that adorable little girl” etc. But I would speak up & tell my daughter there are many reasons why someone may say NO & she needs to be prepared to hear people say No. They are not obligated to buy from her just because she asks.
    She is now 10 & she actually likes to go selling door-to-door. I admit I still feel awkward & nervous when walking up to houses with her as she goes door-to-door, but she does great! The more customers that say NO….the MORE determined she is to continue on & find customers who will say yes.
    She works hard on coming up with her own sales pitch wording & practices it till she has it memorized. This fall she made a video of her fall products sales pitch & our local Girl Scout council was so impressed that they put her video up on their facebook page. I am so proud of the accomplishments she’s made & all the values she’s learned from selling Scout items. 🙂

      • i was responding to the value of “no” when selling Scout items.
        My daughter is a Girl Scout. The article still applys whether it is a boy or girl selling.
        If my younger son decides to be a boy scout when the time comes, then my daughter will absolutely help her brother sell popcorn too. Even though he is a boy, my son has always helped his big sister & learns right along with her all the skills learned while selling Scout items. 🙂

  12. Two additional lesson to be learned: 1) If so many people are saying no, perhaps it’s time to find a product that performs better. 2) If your product does not align with your organization’s or your customers’ values, you’re going to get even more ‘no’s. Our troop does not sell Scout popcorn because it’s an unhealthy, overpriced, overly processed product that signals to our parents’ committee that Scouting is out of touch with the child obesity epidemic, making it worse instead of better. Would be great if we could have fundraisers that aligned with making healthy choices.

    • When I first read the first sentence on why so many know I wasn’t expecting what you wrote next. Most of what I have seen with poor sales has nothing to do with product. It’s mainly the sales technique and poor attitude of parents combined. In my area we had a pack that believed as you and after 5 years of not doing popcorn did it this and sold 3k in 8 hours over 2 days. My son did 21k this year. That’s 8k in profit he will use on boy scouts. NASA space camp, northern tier, Bechtel summit….all paid for by popcorn.

      As far as unhealthy, then you must only be reading the label of the chocolate caramel crunch. All the cheese flavors and microwave flavors are made with canola oil and very light on calories. If the people in your area are so health conscious then I feel sorry for the girl.scouts…they must not be able to sell any of the those very unhealthy cookies. (Doubtful)

      Overpriced. YES but the scout should not be selling the popcorn but selling the scouting program or the scout himself. Otherwise you might as well just be doing another fundraiser like spaghetti dinner or Christmas wreaths.

      Good luck.

        • There are a few secrets…one is not letting “no” come into the conversation by teaching the scout to ask “yes” question. The second is to know your customer and then up sale them. Third is to choose the right location for the right scout….think outside the box. I learned not to put the blond haired, blue eyes scout in front of the Hispanic store. Put a Spanish speaking scout…he will do better.

          If a scout just stands there and says,”hey mister can you buy my popcorn?” There will be lots of “nos” until either a former scout or and old grandma that was a den mother happens along. But if you identify a need and then funnel that need into your sale then you get more “yes'”. The need is that people in the community want to be part of community service. So sell the scout program of community support via popcorn, “hello, my name is —, and I am trying to raise money for a new exercise equipment at the park as part of my eagle project. Can I count on your support?”

          The key phrase is “Can I count on your support?”…it’s a yes question
          .. no one wants to be considered unreliable and certainly not unreliable to help a kid and a community and a kid helping a community. Even for a cub scout saying, “I am trying to earn my own way to camp.”

          Another part is never ever use the words, “buy” or “selling” or phrase “would you like to….” Hunny, would you like to do the dishes, mow the lawn, take out the trash…all “no” question, rarely does any one “like to do” something that is requested of them with out some reward for doing it.

          After the “support” question and you get a “yes” the scout will be asked, “how can I help you?”….this is where he will want to say the buy or selling word…don’t do that…say, “I have all this delicious popcorn!” And start describing the popcorn and flavors and which one he likes the most.

          The thing to remember is that a sale has three answers…yes…no..maybe and maybe means mostly no. So the longer you keep a sale at a yes the better chance to close the deal. If the sale starts with a no then it’s near impossible to get it to a yes. But a yes dropping to a maybe is easier to get back to a yes….the yes drops to a maybe when they hear the price. So my son heads off the maybe with this line, “now I want you to know this popcorn is a little pricey but 70% stays with the local scouts in the form of camp scholarships and funds to help us learn more about community and being leaders. Plus I get an extra 12% in my college fund.” The sale instantly goes back to a yes and sometimes the person even buys more than originally willing to purchase.

          Out of our pack, 11 who sold, 4 did over $2500 and 5 others did over $600. On average our boys turned $200 to $500 an hour each.

          There are a few other aspects to teach but I am typing on my phone. Maybe I should do a video….

  13. Here’s what our pack does.
    We just have fun with it.
    We don’t over analyze it. We do very well with popcorn. We know it’s overpriced but it is a donation.

  14. We tell our boys to say “Thank you for your time.” if someone says no. We explain to our boys that if someone just pauses to listen, they’ve spent time they’ll never get back. That time and attention is worth a thank you. We got extra sales just for being polite.

  15. It’s amazing where you can find lessons. Accepting “no”, overcoming objections “we accept credit cards”, dedication, perseverance, goal setting, money handling & making change (it’s funny watching the expression of adults having 1st graders correctly making change). Yes we’ve been doing well with popcorn too. We’ll have to work on using yes questions though.

  16. My son is a Webelos this year, and this our 4th year of selling popcorn, our outlook is much different than in the past. First, he can do the higher order math much better as a 4th grader, and second we have now seen first hand the importance of the popcorn money to our pack. Third he is at an age where doing most of the work for his own sales is appropriate. So knowing he has control over things, he can look at the prize list and the popcorn sales needed to pay for resident camp, and he wants to do it.

    So, as we kicked off this year at our first show and sell booth, I prepped my son by talking about how many no’s it takes to get to a yes. He started paying attention to the success rate, rather than focusing on the individual no. Things started clicking on how that worked, and it energized his sales technique, his thank you have a nice day had way more pep, regardless of the no answers.

    Then, we hit our first door to door sales, and he was expecting 1 yes for every 10 tries based on the booth. When he started batting .300-.400 range, on yes to no, he was excited. I stood at the sidewalk by the street, sometimes slightly out of earshot, sometimes just barely in earshot, and heard him improve his sales pitch, his efficiency in sharing information, and most importantly, his upbeat tone when he thanked people for their no answer and wished them a great day. At the end of 1 street, we did the math, and if he does 10 more streets like that one, he will be close to his goal of $2500 in sales.

    This popcorn season we have taken a huge goal, and broken it down into parts. But most important, he applied some of that multiplication and division from school, and did the breaking down into parts and sub goals on his own. So now when I encourage him, I will be pointing to his own goal and plan, not to mine. And so far, this has gotten him way more into the spirit of the whole thing more than ever before.

    So yes, I agree, the people telling him no has helped him just as much if not more than those saying yes. And watching him grow has made selling the overpriced popcorn go from a burden, to a blessing.

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