The Apprentice: A moo-t point

Apprentice logoIt’s time for the retail task this week as Lord Sugar sends the teams on a wild goose chase to source produce with which to open a farm shop. After a series of ideas straight out of the funny farm, a rejigged Evolve finally won a task at the fourth time of asking. Endeavour’s lame ducks faced the inevitable cull, with Uzma Yakoob becoming the fourth casualty of the boardroom.

Pull the udder one, Alex! (Image: BBC)

Pull the udder one, Alex! (Image: BBC)

Jordan takes a buffalo stance

It’s 5:20am as the Batphone trills and echoes through the Apprenti-Mansion™, with best friends and Siamese twins Natalie Panayi and Luisa Zissman dashing to answer the call which summons the candidates to Surrey Docks Farm. (Thankfully we are spared yet another Myles Mordaunt Underwear Moment™ this week.) We see the candidates arrive as the camera pans past some animal excrement. One of them is a pile of poo – or is it both?

Neil volunteers to lead from the front for a change (Image: BBC)

Neil volunteers to lead from the front for a change (Image: BBC)

This week the teams are tasked with opening a farm shop. They must source stock and sell it, with the aim of making as much profit as possible. But first, after three abject failures in a row for Evolve, we have the first proper Apprenti-Shuffle™ of this season. Natalie and Uzma Yakoob are punted over to Endeavour, while Myles, Jason Leech and last week’s winning project manager Jordan Poulton are traded to Evolve. Neil Clough, who has back seat-driven two tasks already, becomes Endeavour’s project manager for real, while Luisa beats out Rebecca Slater on Evolve.

The teams set about brainstorming product ideas. Jordan’s rather exotic suggestion of buffalo meat as their hero product is well received by Evolve – nobody considered it a load of old bull, clearly – while Luisa is keen to pursue the takeaway route with the rather less exotic combination of soup and jacket potatoes. For Endeavour, Neil is keen to focus on high margin products and is quick to jump on Kurt Wilson‘s real world business of milkshakes, which he claims he can make for 40p and sell for £3.

Product strategies decided, the teams split up and venture to various points around the south-east to source produce. (No horse-meat was used in the filming of this task.)

Pull the udder one

Not content with looking like the love-child of Dracula and Freddie Mercury, en route to their first stopping point in the Apprenti-Carrier™ Alex Mills suggests a possible childhood obsession with Worzel Gummidge by volunteering that he wouldn’t mind dressing up as a scarecrow. Over the phone, Kurt confidently tells Neil they can sell 200 250ml milkshakes in a day, a figure which all but Zeeshaan Shah accept a little too easily.

Animal recognition was not one of Natalie's strong suits (Image: BBC)

Animal recognition was not one of Natalie’s strong suits (Image: BBC)

Anyhow, Neil’s sub-team pitch up at a dairy farm to buy milk and, after Alex struggles to divide 17 by two – come on, it’s not that difficult, it’s, er, eleventy-five – they negotiate a deal for 100 litres, as long as they do the milking themselves. 100 litres, which is enough for up to 400 milkshakes, seems a tad excessive – but who’s counting? Not Alex, it would seem. Or Natalie, who takes three tries to correctly identify a cow as a cow. (First two attempts: horse, dog.) It’s no wonder she couldn’t spot a pup when she project managed last week’s flat-pack furniture task, is it?

Uzma, Kurt and Zee are on a fruit farm in Kent. Neil gives them a budget of £100 and asks them to spend as much as they can. Kurt is only interested in buying ingredients for his milkshakes, to the exclusion of any other products. They spend barely £30. In the end, a frustrated Neil ends up buying produce at retail rather than wholesale prices to ensure he has stock to sell in his shop, taking a big hit on cost in the process.

Engage brain, yeah?

Luisa's strategy was challenged by her sub-team (Image: BBC)

Luisa’s strategy was challenged by her sub-team (Image: BBC)

Meanwhile, Evolve invest heavily (to the tune of £159) in buffalo meat products, while a sub-team of Myles, Jason and Francesca MacDuff-Varley (who Myles seems to have taken to calling Frank) are sent out to buy vegetables. Luisa wants them to buy a small amount to use only as window dressing, whereas they want to buy in bulk so they can actually sell some of it. You know, like shops do.

Luisa tells them to “engage brain, yeah?” which really gets Francesca’s goat:

You see why we’ve lost tasks?

It’s a fair point. There’s a bit of a rebellion as they decide (quite reasonably) they can’t possibly open up a shop with barely any produce to sell. If they’d been on Endeavour we might even have called it a ‘moo-tiny’. (I’ll get my coat.) Eventually Francesca negotiates a much bigger budget from Luisa.

Shakes & bakes

The following morning, both teams prepare to open up in Hackney’s Broadway Market, home to the hipster set. Milkshakes are blended, potatoes baked.

Evolve’s Buffalocal shop opens promptly at 10am, with their unique selling point of buffalo meat but a focus on drab takeaway fare: leek and potato soup and jacket potatoes with mundane fillings. Endeavour’s Fruity Cow (not named after Luisa, by the way) is still being readied at 10:45am, with Uzma fussing around trying to make a display look perfect. (It’s corn on the cob, for Christ’s sake, not London Fashion Week.)

Another good sales effort from Leah (Image: BBC)

Another good sales effort from Leah (Image: BBC)

Luisa stands her ground after an early customer baulks at the prospect of paying £20 for two buffalo steaks, and is proven right when Leah Totton bags a single sale of £105 soon after. Ker-ching! It’s not the first time the Irish doctor has proven adept at sales, despite Luisa’s dismissal of her business credentials on the opening task. However, their takeaway food is looking like a lame duck.

Myles comes up with the idea of displaying the takeaway food outside the shop to entice customers – what comes out from Jason in the kitchen is an unholy, unappetising mess which looks more like a child has just thrown up over it. Myles is unimpressed, calling Jason “a trickless pony”.

However, as lunchtime arrives, they do finally start to sell some soup and potatoes. But it’s clear that Luisa’s takeaway strategy is not the massive success she had confidently predicted.

Over at Fruity Cow, there’s a steady but not spectacular trade in milkshakes. Kurt suggests diversifying into juices, as a result of which team members are dispatched to Costcutter – that well-known purveyor of quality, locally-sourced organic fare – to buy cartons of cheap juice (and at retail rather than trade prices too). O-kaaay.

Meanwhile Alex and Uzma are outside the shop trying to catch passing trade. Alex is loud, bold and does a passable take on market-stall patter. Uzma is quiet, mumbly and about as audible as a Trappist monk in a gospel choir. As Neil comments:

I don’t really know what she’s here for.

By mid-afternoon it’s becoming clear that they still have a lot of unsold stock. Mixed boxes are created to sell at £10, and excess milk sold off cheap. It’s all hands on deck as closing time approaches, with Uzma again noticeably ineffectual in face-to-face sales situations.

Boardroom brouhaha™

It’s a tough boardroom this week, as it quickly becomes clear that both teams have committed plenty of errors.

Evolve’s takeaway strategy is criticised for being neither different nor exotic enough for East London’s hipster community. Luisa had targeted sales of 200 soups and 150 jacket spuds – they managed 70 and 15-20 respectively. A big miss from a risky strategy which was dependent on a narrow sales window around lunchtime. Sugar also questions her original strategy of buying produce for window dressing rather than sale, and Myles isn’t slow in pointing out her poor direction as a PM. It’s painfully apparent that her sub-team’s insistence on increasing the spend on produce was key in offsetting her failed takeaway strategy.

For Endeavour, Neil acknowledges he utilised Kurt’s experience. Sugar raises some questions about his direct leadership style, but as a project manager most of his team seem reasonably happy with him.

The proof, however, is in the results. Endeavour spent £558.15 and made sales of £1,097.82, generating a profit of £539.67. Evolve spent £618 but sold £1,249.52 for a profit of £631.52 – £91.85 more. It’s a narrow victory but a victory nonetheless, the first for both Evolve and for a female PM.

For their treat, Evolve are sent to The Tramshed in Shoreditch, where they are treated to a four-course meal. I’m assuming no one asked Jason to prepare his speciality of jacket potato with cheese and beans. Luisa is unhappy with Myles’ sub-team for claiming in the boardroom that they saved the day (and not acknowledging her brilliant leadership) – even though they did actually save her from her own flawed strategy.

Endeavour are ferried off to the (Not the) Cafe of Broken Dreams™ for their post-mortem, where it’s clear that Neil and Kurt have their sights trained firmly on each other.

Uzma - maybe not useless, but hardly useful either (Image: BBC)

Uzma – maybe not useless, but hardly useful either (Image: BBC)

Back in the boardroom, Sugar observes that the milkshakes took over the task. Kurt had been confident of selling 200, but only shifted 113. Again, a big miss. The Costcutter juice expedition is also frowned upon.

Neil accepts some personal responsibility for the failure of the task, and elects to bring back Kurt (on the basis of promising sales he didn’t deliver and not spending his budget) and Uzma (for poor overall contribution) to face Sugar’s final reckoning. For the latter, it’s her third time in the final three in just four tasks.

Sugar suggests to Kurt that, by promising a sales number he then failed to deliver, he put a noose around his own neck which Neil jumped on. (Surely it would only be a problem if he pulled the noose, though?) He pushes Neil to the point of thinking he’s about to be fired for allowing himself to be browbeaten by Kurt, then directs the Digit of Doom™ at Uzma for basically being, well, a bit crap all around and contributing little or nothing to the tasks.

In the Taxi to Obscurity™, Uzma continues to talk herself up, as she has done throughout her time on the show:

The last thing Lord Sugar said to me was there’s no smoke without fire. He hasn’t yet seen the fire in me and I’m going to take my business idea, I’m going to make it happen and I’m going to make millions from it.

She really is in the make-up business, in every sense of the word.

Errors, mistakes and gaffes

Both teams made the same fundamental error of opening up shop with a narrow – and therefore risky – product strategy, as they essentially put all their eggs in one basket. Her backing of buffalo meat was sound, but Luisa was seduced by the margin potential of takeaway food, not taking into account that sales would peak sharply at lunchtime and die down at other times. Had her sub-team not insisted on increasing their stock of traditional produce, Evolve would almost certainly have lost and she would probably have been fired.

Neil allowed Kurt to drive too much of a focus on milkshakes and put too much trust in him, although he did his best to rectify Kurt’s lack of spending, albeit at the cost of having to stump up at retail prices. Having said that, Kurt was more at fault for the failure of the task for me than Neil on two counts: his overestimation of milkshake sales and his refusal to buy other produce which drove up costs elsewhere.

Kurt’s performance on the task was also a good example of why it is often not a good idea to let the ‘expert’ have such a strong leadership role in the task (sub-team leader in this case). It’s good to utilise their knowledge, of course, but sometimes it’s too easy for the expert to develop tunnel vision and focus only on the big idea that shows how clever they are, which can be to the detriment of the task as a whole. Often the best teams have someone with little specialist knowledge in charge, who then draws on experts as advisors and consultants and is therefore able to retain the bigger picture too. Trying to combine leadership and expertise in the same role can be a dangerous choice, an error that Apprentice teams seem to make over and over again.

Next week: It’s the treasure hunt task, as the candidates take a day trip to Dubai to source items for the opening of a hotel.

The Apprentice continues on TUESDAY next week on BBC1, with companion show You’re Fired following immediately afterwards on BBC2.

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16 Comments on The Apprentice: A moo-t point

  1. I had a lot of trouble trying to remember that Fruity Cow wasn’t Luisa’s shop. It’s just so perfect for her.

    • She’s certainly not winning too many friends, is she? It will also be interesting to see how Natalie copes now she’s been separated from her BFF.

  2. Another great review. One thing – Dara said they’ll be back next week on *Tuesday*. Not sure why, but we don’t want to miss it!

  3. As both teams did takeaway I suspect that this was a part of the brief that was not disclosed to viewers.

    • I suspect you’re right about that. But for me Evolve’s focus on what were primarily lunchtime products was both too risky and too dull, whereas Endeavour’s shakes were more of an all-day product (and sold more units at most likely a much higher profit).

      Where Evolve won was with their core range of buffalo and produce sourced at wholesale prices. Endeavour simply did not put enough effort into their other products, and having to buy produce at retail prices would have accounted for a significant proportion of the £91 they lost by.

      Fundamentally, though, both teams made some basic errors but Evolve deserved to win because they got more things right and made less costly errors (or corrected them before it was too late).

      • You are right about the lunchtime (and dull) focus of Evolve rather than Endeavour’s all-day milkshakes. However, when Evolve noticed that the jacket potatoes weren’t selling they were left with a raw ingredient that could be packaged and sold cheaply and that people would buy on impulse (because potatoes store quite well). Milk does not keep well and Endeavor were left with a large amount of raw ingredient that was difficult to sell off. If the strategic decision was to go with potato-based takeaways because they are easy and cheap then that was a good decision (although I don’t think Luisa or anyone made a predictive leap regarding selling off unused ingredients when choosing spuds’n’soup).

        • A good point about the sell-on potential of the potatoes – although I suspect this was more by accident than design.

          I still don’t understand why Endeavour, who were aiming to sell an optimistic 200 shakes, bought 100 litres – enough for 400. (Kurt stated at one point that each shake was 250ml.) By all means, buy a little extra to allow for wastage, but did they really need twice as much? (It had a relatively small impact on the overall task, as they only spent £40 in total on milk, but it was evidence of the team’s generally muddled approach to how much they spent on what.)

  4. Good review, Tim. I can see your point about Kurt, but Neil and Luisa were both poor PMs. For me, Neil was lucky to escape, but Uzma was a disaster waiting to happen.

    You can read my thoughts at http://markdecosemo.com/2013/05/23/the-apprentice-week-4-muck-and-brass/

    • Hi Mark. For sure, Neil should have reined Kurt in more. In particular, it would have been prudent to either reduce Kurt’s confident forecast of 200 sales or have a contingency for dealing with the excess stock beyond just dumping it at close to cost. He either didn’t listen to anyone or (in the case of product strategy) listened to them too much.

      Luisa was just terrible from start to finish. I find her smug arrogance incredibly annoying. The only good decision she seemed to make on this task was to allow herself to be convinced into buying more fresh produce. Credit to her for that, but I found it incredible that she only wanted to buy token amounts of veg as window dressing. It showed an alarming lack of ability to spot obvious commercial opportunities.

  5. Disagree on Kurt, its not as if the milkshakes bombed. Kurt made two errors in this task, saying he could sell 200 milkshakes and only spending £33 of the £100 that Neil gave to him. Otherwise, the concept was good and they sold well so I can’t really argue with it.
    Not sure who will win. Think its between

    • Whoops! Think its between Jordan, Neil, Dr. Leah and Rebecca for the win at the moment.

      • I’m unconvinced by either Rebecca or Neil at the moment. Of course, that could change as the weeks go by. Certainly Jordan and Leah have been portrayed in a very good light so far.

    • Candidates have been fired for fewer than two errors, though. If anything, his over-ambitious sales estimate was the lesser of his two errors. Ignoring direct instructions from the PM ro spend money because he was too blinkered by his own focus on milkshakes wasn’t a mistake – it was insubordination, plain and simple. If you disagree with something your boss tells you to do, you don’t just wander off and do your own thing – you have a discussion and try to get him onside. That in itself would have been a valid reason for firing him.

      • I agree that the lack of spending was a far worse crime than overestimating what they could sell. I did feel that because he was more proactive in the task and Uzma had spent four weeks doing virtually nothing that Lord Sugar made the right call.

        • No problem with Uzma being fired – as you say she had done little for four weeks other than argue a lot and talk a good game which she never delivered on (although I’m sure she did more than the editors actually showed us). When you’re in the boardroom three weeks out of four early on, it’s a sure sign you’re not making much of an impact (at least, not a positive one).

          If Sugar had fired Kurt, I’m sure more would have been made of his insubordination. While it was the lesser error, the overestimation of sales was still important. Of course, it’s a bit like trying to work out how long a piece of string is when trying to forecast for a new business in a new location (even if the product is familiar to you, as was the case here). But Kurt erred by being too confident, and Neil should have been more challenging. Ultimately though, buying too many ingredients wouldn’t have made much difference as the cost was so low. Given that Kurt said they cost 40p each to make, even if they had had 85 shakes’ worth of stock left unsold that equates to £34 of stock – barely a third of the margin of defeat – and, of course, we saw both teams ‘dumping’ excess stock at the end, so it wasn’t dead stock.

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