Protect your popcorn sales – and your customers

popcorn+cards_250It’s that time of year again – popcorn season! And soon, our Scouts will be knocking on doors, standing on street corners and in front of grocery stores offering the tasty treats of popcorn and other goodies as a thank-you gift to our friends and neighbors for their financial support of Scouting in our communities, making it possible for our young people to enjoy fun and adventure while the values of Scouting are instilled.. (And you thought they were just selling popcorn!)

And just as much as our Scouts struggle to make the sale, we struggle with the finances. We guesstimate how much of each product to order, find some place to store it when it arrives, allocate it by den or patrol, and take back the unsold inventory. We also have to deal with the money, which could be the most daunting aspect of all.

In the past, most people paid cash or wrote a check, but it has become more of a cashless world, and Scouting needs to keep up with the times. While cash is still king, fewer people are writing paper checks, and many more sales could be made if our young salespeople accepted credit cards. There may be many units that don’t want the hassle of dealing with credit cards, but in this day and age, it’s a smart way to accept payments, not only for popcorn but for other amounts owed to the pack or troop, including membership dues and campout fees.

There’s another reason why we should embrace credit cards (and cash, of course) and try to steer clear of checks. It’s because a check is not always an iron-clad payment form, and it can be difficult or impossible to track down the person who wrote the check if it turns out to be bad. Unit parents are usually trustworthy, but you can’t say the same about the general public. I’m pretty sure your unit has had to deal with at least one bounced check from popcorn sales in the last year or two, and you know that not only do you lose the sale amount but the fees can eat into the profits that you earn.

You can also protect your customers – or even people who aren’t your customers – by not accepting checks. A story appeared in our local newspaper this week about a man who was hounded by debt collectors over a bad check for $36 worth of Girl Scout cookies…that he didn’t even write! It turns out that the man had discarded some old checks from a closed account; a thief fished them out of the garbage and went on a spending spree. Among the purchases were the Girl Scout cookies, and the council had hired a debt collector to go after him. You can read his tale and let it help you decide for yourself whether accepting checks is worth that sort of risk.

Fortunately, accepting credit cards is within everyone’s reach now. Your bank may be able to set you up with a merchant account at a favorable rate. You can buy the tiny Square credit-card reader at almost any electronics store, set up an account with Square and begin accepting credit card payments. Your council may have a special deal on the reader and the service (ours did a couple years ago). I even know a den leader who got one to make it easier for his den parents to pay for outings and supplies. Of course, there is a service charge, around three percent of the sale, but it’s small compared with the cost of dealing with a bad check.

So before you turn away a popcorn sale – or a prospective new member – because you don’t take plastic, think about signing up for a credit card service. It’ll make your financial transactions easier and safer for everyone.

Note: This is not an endorsement of, nor do I have any interest in, Square or any other similar service. I mention it for informational purposes only.


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