Monday, October 8, 2012

Boy Scout Popcorn glut and traffic jams

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Boy Scout Popcorn glut and traffic jams

There's a real glut of Boy Scouts selling pop corn. You can't turn a corner or enter a store without running into the young men and their scout leaders at a table selling pop corn.

Carmel Corn. Super buttered corn. Cheese pop corn. And Chocolate covered pretzels. OK. How did chocolate covered pretzels get into the mix? That's not popcorn.

Aaron, who is in his second year of Boy Scouts, and I filled up the car with boxes of popcorn. Add the table. Add the flyer in the plastic stand up with the prices and the Boy Scout logo. Who doesn't love the Boy Scouts?

We went to the Walgreens where we were assigned and there was another troop there. We went to the Jewel to see if we could sell there -- Jewel has the highest traffic and if you have clout in the scouts, your kid can get assigned there. But it was packed with scouts at both doors.

The traffic flow impacts sales. The higher the traffic flow the better the sale. The lower the traffic flow, the harder the sales. And, weather impacts it too. People don't want to eat popcorn when under 40 degrees outside. Popcorn is a warm weather snack.

Everyplace is packed so where do we go? Well, we drove to the HHGregg technology store in the small mall on LaGrange Road and I went in and asked the manager if we could set up a table in front of his store. The place seemed busy. Comp USA was already taken down the other end of the mall so I figured this would be far enough from the other scouts. The manager at HHGregg was nice and said sure, but not in the foyer. Keep it outside.

Outside, in the cold. Well, he was courteous and we appreciated his permission.

Aaron and I were bundled up for the cold. We had the popcorn bags laid out neatly on the table. We had little tags marking the different costs. We had our plastic holder with the sheets of printed paper -- that I printed on my new WiFi printer (works like a charm). We had single dollar bills.

I even had my iPhone and my Square credit card reader, so we publicized the fact that we could take credit cards.

At today's prices, who carries that much cash around?

Popcorn is expensive. Caramel corn with almonds is $10 a bag. The Cheesy popcorn was $15. The chocolate covered pretzels were $25. And single bags of popcorn were $1. Who buys a single bag of popcorn, even from the scouts.

The first couple that walked by looked and snorted.

Customers may be always right but they are almost always rude, too. Aaron was polite saying hello to everyone and asking if they wanted to buy popcorn for the Scouts. After all, the money isn't for us. It goes to help the Scouts and Scout charities and efforts.

Two older ladies stopped looked and asked why we didn't have cookies. Cookies are for the Girl Scouts I wanted to scream, my fingers getting numb from the chilled air. But we smiled and shrugged. And they walked off.

You really don't know how bad the economy is until you have to buy food at the grocery store and choke when the total rings up. Or, when you are selling popcorn to the public, even in front of a high end technology store like HHGregg. Several customers came up and asked when they could buy for $4. No coincidence. They both asked, separately, what they could buy for $4. We didn't have anything for $4 but we could sell them 4 single packs of popcorn kernels they could take home and microwave, if they had a microwave which I think every family does. Right?

It got really windy so we had to move over on the other side of the bike rack that no one really uses. Carrying the table a few feet just to stay warm.

I could take credit cards "with the iPhone" I said to assure people it wasn't a scam. People don't like to hand their credit cards over to people standing behind tables even in Scout uniforms. "With the iPhone" I repeated to people to give them some assurance. That's where life is headed people, so get used to it. I'm no big Steve Jobs fan at all. His products are designed to squeeze money out of our pockets repeatedly. Over and over again forcing us to spend money to upgrade, "improve" and replace things we spent hundreds of dollars already to buy only to be told it's no longer good enough. The month after I bought the iPhone 4S they said the iPhone 5 was coming out. $499 down the drain if I "upgrade" and buy the new iPhone for $500.

All these things were going through my mind as we looked at the little cigar box -- those are antiques aren't they? We sold two bags of caramel corn, and 9 single bags of popcorn kernels that had to be microwaved.

$29 total. One guy came up and gave Aaron $2 as a donation. He thought we were panhandling for the poor, even though Aaron was in his Boy Scout Uniform, which I admit, has changed dramatically since when I wore the uniform back in the 1960s. More colors. More designs. Millions of patches for everything.

At the end of three hours, we repacked the product into the boxes and I carried them one at a time to the car. Aaron stayed by the table just in case there was a rush of customers. "Hey don't close. I just spent $800 on a 40 inch flatscreen TV. I need to buy some popcorn. No. Chocolate covered pretzels. Don't goooooooo!"

But we were gone.

Maybe the Scouts should start selling iPhones. People seem to be able to afford them. But popcorn at a few bucks. The economy sucks too badly.

Thanks to HHGregg for being so generous. They deserve it for supporting the Boy Scouts.

-- Ray Hanania

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