Nicole Henley didn't wear out any sneakers by selling 1,200 boxes of Girl Scout cookies last year. Like any good businesswoman, she staked out a corner where customers came to her.
''I usually do most of my selling after school at MIT,'' says the eighth-grader from Troop 1716 in Cambridge, Mass., who plans to return to her familiar selling grounds this year. ''I just stand outside and they come up to me. They say, 'Oh my gosh, it's a Girl Scout!' ''
Nicole is one of thousands of Girls Scouts across the country who are currently taking orders for the famous cookies in their neighborhoods and local malls.
Last year, Americans ate 8.3 million pounds - some 168 million boxes - of Girl Scout cookies, according to Girl Scouts USA. If placed end-to-end, the cookies - which were first sold in the 1920s - would circle the globe 10 times, stretching 250, 549 miles. Thin Mints remain the favorite, accounting for one-fourth of all sales.
''One of the reasons Girl Scout cookies are so popular is that they're available only for a limited time each year. This is a treat,'' says Joan Denton, product sales manager with Patriots' Trail Girl Scout Council, which serves the Boston area. ''People love the cookies and have a good feeling about Girl Scouts and like to help out.''
Cookie varieties and prices vary according to council, but usually customers can choose from seven or eight varieties - from Caramel Delites to ginger snaps - at about $3 a box. Profits from the sales go into the councils' coffers to help maintain camp properties and provide camperships, as well as fund trips and training.
Competition heats up as Scouts are offered incentive awards, such as a T-shirt for selling 100 boxes or a mini-backpack for selling 200 boxes. Nicole Henley got two free weeks at camp last year as a reward for selling her 1,200 cookie boxes.
Nowadays, booth set-ups and door-to-door visits aren't the only ways Scouts are selling. The Patriots' Trail Scouts started a mail-order cookie business, where people phone or fax in requests. Scouts in Grades 7 through 12 join a program to learn what it's like to run a business.
This year, they are also selling on the World Wide Web for the first time (http://www.ptgirlscouts.org/ptgirlscouts.html). The sale will continue until April 1.