Bake Sales and Tasty Baked Goods

     When I was about 20 years old, a car drove by that had a bumper sticker that said "Wouldn’t it be nice if the schools had all the money they needed and the Air Force had to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber?" I remember wishing I were in a bomber at that moment so I could drop one on the car attached to that bumper (which by the way was a much better car than anything I’d ever driven up to that point in my short life).

     Never mind the constitutional ignorance of the owner of the bumper sticker.  In very general terms, the federal government is responsible for national defense and for raising an army and a navy (and in modern parlance, an air and space force).  The states are responsible for public education.  It might be nice if everyone had all the money they needed, but economics being what they are, we have political constraints on who gets to choose to allocate scarce resources.  In order for the car owner’s fantasy to be fulfilled, he or she would need to ensure people elected to federal government would reduce defense spending and reduce taxes so that states and municipalities could then raise local taxes to give the schools more money.  I would then argue that while money is important, it’s not everything; when I was a substitute teacher back in the days I saw that bumper sticker, the schools I helped in needed discipline more than dollars.  Discipline is relatively free of cost, it just requires one or two teachers to stay late or on Saturday to monitor students in detention.  In retrospect I would have liked to have pointed all this out to the owner of the bumper sticker, but alas, the car didn’t stop and the owner didn’t jump out in order to strike up a political conversation with a dissheveled 20-year old wearing a cotton zip-up jogging sweatshirt colored to match his alma mater high school who aspired to fly anything for the Air Force, even a bomber. 

     Fast forward to yesterday, when I was standing at a table in the foyer of the Commissary with a couple of other volunteer Boy and Cub Scouts and their parents. . . hosting a bake sale.  At an Air Force Base.  At which I fly jets that carry bombs. 

     The really scary thing is that my wife made me give that sweatshirt away to the needy a couple years ago, and if she hadn’t, I’d still have that sweatshirt!

     The bake sale was actually for the local Order of the Arrow section.  Surprisingly, the OA got some help from one of the local Cub Scout Packs.  This was a really good thing; someone pointed out that Commissary patrons were more likely to be unable to say no to a Cub Scout asking if they’d like to buy a treat than they would to a teenager or an adult.  This turned out to be largely true.  So next time the Cub Scouts need help setting up their Pinewood Derby, it looks like OA is going to have to do the heavy lifting! Rightly so, of course.

     Another couple lessons we learned (actually, I was probably the only one there who had never run a bake sale before and therefore was probably the only one who didn’t know this) was that the Japanese love to buy whole American cakes (9"x9" seems to be the preferred size).  However, the bulk of Commissary patrons are not Japanese, they’re American.  Americans would rather buy cookies or brownies at a bake sale; they’re simply looking for a snack.  The Japanese folks are looking for a big treat to take home to their entire family; the Americans aren’t really even looking for something to eat, they’re mostly just helping out what they consider a worthy cause.  The first lesson then was to know who your target market will be, and talk to the folks who will be baking the snacks to ensure they’ll bake something that will sell.  We did pretty well, but we ended the day with about six out of twelve cakes leftover. 

     A second lesson could be drawn from the type of baked goods needed for sale.  We had several people make their favorite type of cake, brownies, or pie.  These didn’t sell very well.  What sold best were plain ol’ chocolate-chip cookies, then other types of cookies, then plain chocolate fudge.  I’d like to explain this by way of a real estate analogy.  Stay with me, it really applies! Say you’re in the market to buy a house.  Two houses, actually.  One house will be the one you want to live in.  You’ve always wanted a two-story Victorian with a huge porch, an in-ground swimming pool, a jacuzzi, a four-car garage, and an atrium.  The other house will be one to rent out.  So when you go shopping for the houses, you would buy one Victorian with everything you always wanted, and one plain ol’ three bedroom, 1.5 bath ranch house with a minimally furnished basement.  You wouldn’t buy a second Victorian.  Why not? It’d never rent (at least not in a neighborhood where the prospective tenants are looking for the area with the best schools).  The simple fact is the Joe and Jane Renter family is not looking for your dream house.  By the same token, the target market for your bake sale is like the Joe and Jane Renter family; they may find cheesecake-covered brownies too rich or too esoteric for their tastes.  They just strolled by on their way to the Commissary from the Food Court and were not expecting to see a bunch of Scouts selling baked goods.  They’re just going to want something relatively small, simple, and tasty. 

     One pleasant surprise was the number of people who walked by, handed us money, but refused to take a treat.  I figured one or two people might do that (and I figured they’d be the parents of the Scouts).  I didn’t keep count, but it was actually probably close to one out of every 10 people that did that.  By the end of the day, I was practically begging some of these generous donors to please take something, we were running out of time and didn’t want to take the baked goods home with us if we could avoid it.  As I mentioned, we ended up taking home many of the cakes and some of the brownies. 

     I’d just like to say a quick "Thank you" to the Scouts and their families who participated and made it a successful sale; and also to the local community of people who enjoy tasty baked goods and don’t mind forking over more than a few pennies per item!

     I’ve only got one question for everyone:  Is it just me, or do most people write up a six-page after-action report after they’ve held a bake sale (and then publish selected revisions on their web logs)?

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