Trail's End is a Cruddy Product

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Vitamin K
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Trail's End is a Cruddy Product

Post by Vitamin K » Mon Sep 15, 2014 7:48 am

So it's popcorn time for my son's pack. It's kind of a necessary evil, because nobody enjoys selling the stuff, but it does help us keep our dues low, so...

But I'm gonna come out and say it: Trails End products suck.

First off, they're way overpriced. Compare to Girl Scouts products, where a person can drop 5-6 bucks and get a whole box of cookies. For Trails End, you pay 10 bucks for the /cheapest/ product available. Next up is $18. For what? Candied popcorn? Seriously?

Secondly, nobody really likes them. I mean, it's okay, but it's nothing people crave. Not like Thin Mints or Samoas. That stuff sells itself. People buy the popcorn out of pity or wanting to support the Scouts...not because they really want any.

I think the BSA really needs to re-evaluate this fundraiser and come up with something that's slightly better for the scouts to push on friendly neighbors and relatives. Maybe energy bars? Trail mixes? I don't even know. But anything's gotta be better than the popcorn.

Rant over. :)



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Re: Trail's End is a Cruddy Product

Post by FatSebastian » Mon Sep 15, 2014 9:43 am

:) Somebody had to finally say it!
Vitamin K wrote:First off, they're way overpriced. [...] People buy the popcorn out of pity or wanting to support the Scouts...not because they really want any.
I would agree that if we put Trail's End popcorn on the grocery store shelf to compete without any Scouting affiliation, it would stay there forever at the current BSA-asking prices. Prices have increased markedly over the years without improving the quality or portion size; people can walk into a grocery store and buy the same amount of Crunch-N-Munch or Fiddle-Faddle for a fraction of the cost.

After a couple of seasons of popcorn peddling, I excused my boys from participating in our Council-sanctioned popcorn fundraisers, because our experience showed that popcorn sales go against the very fundraising guidelines dictated by the BSA: "All commercial products must sell on their own merits, not the benefit received by the Boy Scouts. The principle of value received is critical in choosing what to sell." Which is to say, BSA explicitly instructs that units should choose to not offer products that are overpriced or else require sympathy to move.
Vitamin K wrote:I think the BSA really needs to re-evaluate this fundraiser... anything's gotta be better than the popcorn.
I recommend that you offer feedback directly to your District Executive. I've been told that Popcorn persists as a fundraiser because the profit margins are astronomically high. So, even a relatively low volume of sales (compared to say, GS cookies) still funnels a lot of money to BSA councils.



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Re: Trail's End is a Cruddy Product

Post by Vitamin K » Tue Sep 16, 2014 5:15 am

So did you adopt a different fundraising model to cover expenses? If there were good alternatives, I'd definitely broach the subject at planning meetings for the next scouting year.
FatSebastian wrote:After a couple of seasons of popcorn peddling, I excused my boys from participating in our Council-sanctioned popcorn fundraisers, because our experience showed that popcorn sales go against the very fundraising guidelines dictated by the BSA: "All commercial products must sell on their own merits, not the benefit received by the Boy Scouts. The principle of value received is critical in choosing what to sell." Which is to say, BSA explicitly instructs that units should choose to not offer products that are overpriced or else require sympathy to move.



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Re: Trail's End is a Cruddy Product

Post by FatSebastian » Tue Sep 16, 2014 6:15 pm

Vitamin K wrote:So did you adopt a different fundraising model to cover expenses?
All units with which we have been involved sell popcorn, because there is an expectation at the higher levels (District and Council) that this be done and there is a lot of infrastructure within the Council to push it (ever heard of a "Popcorn Colonel"?). I, and some other parents too, do not encourage our own boys to peddle Council popcorn though. Instead, alternatives that we have found more successful at the unit level are Christmas wreaths / evergreen sales during the winter, and garden-flower sales (e.g., annuals) in the spring. The profit margins are not as high on these products, but the unit makes more because District and Council are not skimming part of those profits, and people actually buy them. Similarly, one unit did well selling boxes of famous-brand doughnuts ($5 dozen and $3 half-dozen) outside high traffic areas (local post office, shopping centers, etc.) on Saturday mornings. Etc. If leadership does a little research, and there is a motivated parent or two willing to organize a fund-raiser, I suspect that there are lots of alternative fund-raising opportunities available to local units.



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Re: Trail's End is a Cruddy Product

Post by Darin McGrew » Wed Sep 17, 2014 1:21 am

My wife is fundraising chair for another organization. Their biggest fundraiser is chocolate, but even that is tricky. The key seems to be keeping the chocolate bars at $1 each. That seems to be the threshold for an impulse buy for most people. When the company they originally used increased the sale price to $1.50 and then to $2, sales dropped significantly. The organization switched companies to get a chocolate bar with a sale price of $1, and sales picked up again.

But there's a lot of competition, with other organizations selling chocolate bars as fundraisers too.

It's a tough balance. If too little of the sale price goes to the organization, then I'd rather make a donation, unless it's something I'm going to buy anyway. But even then, the organization members are likely to do a lot of work for minimal funds raised.

And if too much of the sale price goes to the organization, then the sale price is likely to be inflated, and the purchase is undervalued. Which is the whole "products must sell on their own merits" issue.



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Re: Trail's End is a Cruddy Product

Post by birddog » Thu Sep 18, 2014 3:54 pm

The popcorn says right on the packaging: "over 70% goes to scouting". They are telling the customers that the margin is 70%. With only 30% of the price covering the actual cost of the popcorn, you can imagine you are not getting much in return.

We market the popcorn as a donation to local scouting with a "small popcorn thank you" in return. How can it be sold as anything else given such high margins?

The $10 items are the best sellers. Those who want something cheesy or chocolaty are the next best, but they are indeed pricey. The only way to justify the price is to ensure folks know that it is basically a donation. I make sure folks understand 70% goes to Scouting and most understand it and know they are essentially making a donation.

I just wish we had more $10 items as the higher priced stuff can be difficult for many good intention-ed customers.

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Re: Trail's End is a Cruddy Product

Post by FatSebastian » Thu Sep 18, 2014 4:07 pm

birddog wrote:The only way to justify the price is to ensure folks know that it is basically a donation.
We used to offer the same justification, until we determined that sort of justification apparently violates BSA own fundraising guidelines that the product must sell on its "own merits, not the benefit received" by Scouts. After that determination, we politely excused ourselves from selling popcorn.



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Re: Trail's End is a Cruddy Product

Post by gpraceman » Thu Sep 18, 2014 4:31 pm

Sam's Club had cases of candy bars which are intended for fundraisers. If I recall correctly, they cost $0.50 each and they suggest that you sell them for $1.


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Re: Trail's End is a Cruddy Product

Post by birddog » Fri Sep 19, 2014 3:12 pm

FatSebastian wrote:
birddog wrote:The only way to justify the price is to ensure folks know that it is basically a donation.
We used to offer the same justification, until we determined that sort of justification apparently violates BSA own fundraising guidelines that the product must sell on its "own merits, not the benefit received" by Scouts. After that determination, we politely excused ourselves from selling popcorn.
What makes you think that the BSA's own fundraising guideline is accurate? They obviously either believe that the popcorn can be sold on its own merit (which nobody who actually sells it thinks is the case) or they are violating their own policy or their policy doesn't reflect their true values.

Either way, something is wrong and I'd hate to miss out on the revenues we generate from popcorn selling by taking such a stand for what may be a policy that isn't even accurate anymore, or at the very least, the BSA doesn't abide by themselves!

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Re: Trail's End is a Cruddy Product

Post by FatSebastian » Fri Sep 19, 2014 3:48 pm

birddog wrote:What makes you think that the BSA's own fundraising guideline is accurate?
I am not sure that "accurate" is the right word - "appropriate" maybe? Regardless of what I think about it, it is the guideline that is supposed to apply to BSA unit fundraising, just because the BSA says. The guideline is that the product should largely sell itself (like Vitamin K noted about GS cookies.) IMO it seems like a reasonable policy if one wants to avoid making Scouts feel dejected because the product does not merit the asking price and they experience excessive rejections from those they ask. Which is to say, it is too much to ask 2nd graders to market a product under conditions that a professional retailer couldn't/wouldn't.

If I may turn the question around, do you think the BSA fundraising guideline is inappropriate? (If so, why?)
birddog wrote:They obviously either believe that the popcorn can be sold on its own merit (which nobody who actually sells it thinks is the case)...
Ask your DE and he will probably say (sheepishly) that the popcorn product stands on it own merit, because that is the only way it jives with BSA policy. Our DE did anyway; I believe he argued that what the product lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. I admit that the popcorn was pretty good the last time I had some, especially the pricier varieties, at least. But I think everyone else who is not a professional Scouter would admit that it is a tough sale, especially within the current economy.
birddog wrote:I'd hate to miss out on the revenues we generate from popcorn selling by taking such a stand...
Then go for it! Here, whatever profits a scout earns via unit fundraising reduces their the annual dues / expense account by that amount. If necessary, I'd rather make up their account balances out of my own pocket (i.e., make a donation to my own scouts) than have boys "panhandling". The BSA guideline reinforces our decision.

While the packaging says "over 70%" goes to Scouting, IIRC our boys only got credited ~1/3 of total sales in practice, with the rest of the "over 70%" presumably going outside the unit to higher levels of Scouting. The decision to opt out of popcorn is a practical one, not just one of principle. We have done better with other fundraisers, and without having to apologize "Just think of your purchase as a donation to Scouting."



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Re: Trail's End is a Cruddy Product

Post by FatSebastian » Sat Sep 20, 2014 9:32 am

:( Out in front of Sam's Club this morning, a young, uniformed Scout plainly asked us if we would like to buy some popcorn "or make a donation" while holding a large plastic jug decoratively marked "Donations". I suspect this approach is a result of the popcorn product being such a poor value; it is easier cheaper for people and potentially more profitable to the unit to just give a donation than to buy the popcorn.

Unfortunately, this unit's solicitation of gifts by Scouts is a clear violation of BSA Fiscal Policies & Procedures.



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Re: Trail's End is a Cruddy Product

Post by Stan Pope » Sat Sep 20, 2014 9:43 am

How is BSA to police such violations? Fire the volunteers? (It can be done.) Decertify the units? (I bet the DE's would love that!)


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Re: Trail's End is a Cruddy Product

Post by Darin McGrew » Sat Sep 20, 2014 11:29 pm

gpraceman wrote:Sam's Club had cases of candy bars which are intended for fundraisers. If I recall correctly, they cost $0.50 each and they suggest that you sell them for $1.
That's basically what my wife's fundraising does, although not with Sam's Club. They buy fundraising chocolate bars for $0.50 each and sell them for $1.00 each. It works well.



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Re: Trail's End is a Cruddy Product

Post by FatSebastian » Sun Sep 21, 2014 10:53 am

Stan Pope wrote:How is BSA to police such violations?
I suppose such violations come about due to ignorance. If so, training is key (I know about fundraising rules mainly because of BSA Leadership Training). BSA could emphasize fundraising guidelines or incorporate fundraising training as part of their annual Popcorn sales. They could even put reminders about specific policies, or URL links to those policies, right on the Popcorn paperwork given out to units.

The larger goals of the overall Scouting program should be kept in mind by those at all levels who seek to raise funds. In relationship to the subject topic of Trail's End Popcorn, I empathize with those selling it, having done it myself. I also think that units feeling the need to panhandle may be corroborating evidence of Vitamin K's original observation: that Trail's End Popcorn leaves much to be desired as a fundraiser, at least at its current price point.



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Re: Trail's End is a Cruddy Product

Post by birddog » Mon Sep 22, 2014 10:53 am

FatSebastian wrote:If I may turn the question around, do you think the BSA fundraising guideline is inappropriate? (If so, why?)
I think the current fundraising guideline is inappropriate because the major fundraising tool advocated by BSA (i.e. trails end popcorn) doesn't meet the guideline. If you have to "sheepishly" say things like "the quality makes it a reasonable value", then you are just plain out of touch with the reality of the current situation. I've logged over 50 hours helping my son sell this stuff over the years and there is just no way to justify that it stands on its own merit (like girl scout cookies do). It is an embarrassment to even attempt to convey it as anything other than "a donation with a small popcorn thank you". Actually, it is more than an embarrassment, it is ethically wrong and a lie in my opinion. Rather than assuming BSA leadership is lying, I assume their policy is wrong/inaccurate/inappropriate.
FatSebastian wrote: I'd rather make up their account balances out of my own pocket (i.e., make a donation to my own scouts) than have boys "panhandling".
I'm not sure I'd equate selling popcorn to "panhandling". While the value received for the money paid is very little (given the 70%+ margins), it isn't panhandling. I think all we are debating here is the amout of margin that is "morally acceptable before becoming a donation". Some have suggested that a 50% margin is reasonable (.50 cost on choc bar and selling it for 1.00). I don't think most have an issue with that as $1.00 can be spent by almost anyone, where as most popcorn starts at $20 (with a few token bags at $10 or $15). Thus the issue with popcorn is likely more the absolute cost as opposed to the margin received.
FatSebastian wrote:While the packaging says "over 70%" goes to Scouting, IIRC our boys only got credited ~1/3 of total sales in practice, with the rest of the "over 70%" presumably going outside the unit to higher levels of Scouting.
Yes, this is what we see as well. Given > 50% of the profits actually go to "district/council/higher levels of scouting", this is another reason why I choose to believe the guideline isn't accurate or I'd be questioning the motive behind allowing popcorn sales (I suspect this funds a great deal of BSA leadership salaries and such).

It is good you have fundraisers that can out perform popcorn. We do not. Our little pack relies on it to keep our dues reasonably affordable and to give kids a way to pay for their summer camp.

birddog



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