It’s time to roll out the barrel as the second part of this week’s Apprentice double-header sees the teams tasked with selling a new flavoured beer. But while Endeavour succeeded with a tasty tipple that pleased their punters’ palettes, Evolve – in the words of one of their own number – epically failed. Fundamental errors led to a crushing defeat, forcing Lord Sugar to declare it closing time for project manager Tim Stillwell.
It’s 6am at the Apprenti-Mansion™ and Luisa Zissman answers the first telephone summons of this season, with Jason Leech watching on wearing an alarmingly loud pair of red candy-stripe pyjamas. The candidates arrive at the Old Bank pub in Fleet Street, where Lord Sugar tells them their task is to create a flavoured beer, sell it to trade and the public, and make as much profit as possible.
As Tim Stillwell‘s business idea is to come up with a new form of drink, he is transferred over to Evolve and given the dubious privilege of project managing the girls. Meanwhile Kurt Wilson, a health drink entrepreneur, is assigned as Endeavour’s project manager. (Is this going to become a trend, where Sugar ensures no one can hide by nominating the PMs himself? If so, I like it.)
The world according to Neil Clough
Endeavour start by brainstorming flavours. Kurt suggests chilli and caramel, the ever-reticent Neil Clough offers chocolate orange, while Jordan Poulton throws in nettles. Not literally, I hasten to add.
Kurt makes the bewildering decision to send a sub-team of Alex Mills, Zeeshaan ‘Zee’ Shah (who doesn’t drink for religious reasons), Jason (who doesn’t like beer) and Jordan (who doesn’t drink much) to the Banks’s brewery in Wolverhampton to test flavours and oversee the production process. He then overrides them by dictating that they will go for Neil’s chocolate orange flavour, which only goes to inflate Neil’s ego further. (No, I didn’t think that was possible either).
I’d say that behind every good project manager there’s a Neil Clough.
He really does have all the self-effacing modesty of his namesake Brian.
Despite their initial knock-back, the manufacturing sub-team seem to get themselves organised efficiently, getting their ingredient mixes right and producing stock without incident. Which, of course, means we don’t get to see any of it because who wants to see competent teamwork on The Apprentice, right?
What’s two plus two again?
Instead we spend much more time with Evolve, where things run less smoothly. They start by trying to determine their target market. Tim initially wants to target female drinkers but ends up coming back to men after the girls turn his organised brainstorm into a competition to see who can shout the loudest. (Winner: Luisa.)
Scary saleswoman Rebecca Slater, Stella English lookalike Francesca Macduff-Varley and recruitment manager Natalie Panayi join Tim at Banks’s, where they start mixing random flavours in random volumes like one of those white-haired mad scientists you see in those really old B-movies. They eventually settle on rhubarb and caramel as their flavour sensation.
Meanwhile sub-team leader Uzma Yakoob has her hands full as they try to design their Rhubarb & Riches brand. Leah Totton and Sophie Lau are fine, but Luisa constantly critiques, complains and dominates airtime, questioning why they have to do anything and basically indirectly telling the rather pissed-off graphics designer sat between her and Uzma that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Do you remember the film Speed, where the bus was rigged to explode if it didn’t maintain a certain speed? I’m beginning to wonder if Luisa isn’t somehow similar. Does her jaw seize up – or, worse still, her brain start working (remember, she says she has a brain like Einstein) – if she isn’t constantly talking?
Things are even worse back at the factory as Francesca, who has been put in charge of calculating numbers, and the others prove unable to work out what volumes of flavourings they need to add to each keg of base ale. One keg goes to waste after an aghast Banks’s expert warns them that what they have created is far too strong for human consumption – an error known to long-time Apprentice fans as ‘doing a Yasmina’ – and might literally have left anyone drinking it blind drunk. (It has already eaten through the metal keg and is burrowing its way inexorably towards the Earth’s core.) A second attempt also goes to waste before they finally get it right, but not before over £120 of raw materials have been rendered useless. Frankly, it’s a miracle they manage to produce anything at all. I’m beginning to understand how horse meat gets put into lasagne.
The black art of sales negotiation
The following morning both teams get to examine their stock and then have 12 hours to sell as much as they can: kegs to the trade, pints to the public.
For Endeavour, Alex heads up a sub-team of Zee and Jason to pursue trade sales for their brand A Bitter This, with Jason firmly frozen out of selling. When he complains about this, Alex minces no words in ordering the “silly shit” to be quiet. That doesn’t stop Jason butting in to negotiations at every opportunity, continually undermining Zee just as he is on the point of closing sales and costing his team valuable money and burning away already thin profit margins.
Mind you, their day had gotten off to an even worse start after they pitched up at their first appointment, a specialist pub, without a sample for their potential customers to taste. As Alex admits:
I know it’s completely random and stupid …
Well, it’s certainly the latter.
Meanwhile Kurt, Neil, Jordan and Myles Mordaunt head to the St Albans Beer Festival – that places the filming of this episode in late September, fact fans – where Kurt makes the executive decision to go for a premium price of £4 per pint, more than their competitors. It’s a risky move but one which is also generally wise in a volume-constrained, profit-dependent task such as this one: start by pricing for profit, then gradually drop your price as the day progresses and once you have gauged the level of demand. Sales are steady without being stellar – but all at a strong profit – and as business starts to dwindle in the afternoon they decide to relocate to the Real Food Festival on the South Bank, two hours’ drive away.
They arrive with two hours remaining to shift 300 pints’ worth of stock and immediately start selling at attractively cheap prices. As Jordan astutely observes, the morning was all about profit for them, whereas the afternoon is all about volume.
Location, location, location
Evolve also choose a beer festival to target retail sales: the Kent Beer Festival in, er, Putney. Now Putney is in south-west London, while Kent is to the south-east of … oh, never mind. When they turn up, Tim, Luisa, Sharon and Francesca discover to their horror that it is basically a glorified pub beer tent. They make a decent fist of the hand they’re dealt, but as locations go it’s nothing short of disastrous, like busking in an abandoned railway station. On a Sunday. At 3am.
Fortunately their trade sales team, headed up by Rebecca, is racking up the sales. She negotiates well at the same specialist pub the boys stumbled at, meeting the customer halfway to offload four casks at £78 each, but her relationship with Uzma becomes increasingly fractious as the day goes on. Faults on both sides, I think – both are strong-willed and unwilling to back down, and Rebecca wants to hog all the selling herself. (My initial impression is that she is a strong saleswoman but absolutely not a team player and very possibly a one-trick pony.)
Having exhausted sales in Putney, Tim decides to relocate to a busy wine bar in Richmond. Curiously, most of the drinkers there aren’t particularly interested in sampling a new beer and sales are hard to come by despite the high footfall. Wine drinkers wanting to drink wine – who’d have thought it?
Fortunately the trade team is still going strong. Leah charms her way to a lucrative sale at a pub, selling their last two casks for a whopping £90 each. (Contrast that with Rebecca’s £78 and Zee, whose sales are made between £70 and £75.)
Task complete, it’s back to the boardroom. Sugar starts by quizzing Endeavour, where Kurt’s division of resources comes under scrutiny and Alex sticks a knife into Jason over their shambolic sales pitches, while in between Neil (channelling the spirit of Adam Corbally) tells everyone how everything was his idea.
Evolve’s interrogation leaves them feeling more than a little punch-drunk. Francesca in particular is criticised for her poor grasp of numbers, to which she responds with a rather tame excuse:
I’m not a mathematician. I have GCSE maths.
Let’s be fair, she was only being asked to multiply a few numbers together – no one was asking her to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem or anything, were they?
On to the results. Evolve spent £648.67 (about a fifth of that going to waste). They sold £492 to the trade (Rebecca £312, Leah £180) and £555.69 to the public, so their overall profit was £399.02. Endeavour’s costs came to £601.40. Their trade sales were an abysmal £284.98 – cut to Luisa grinning smugly – but their retail sales an outstanding £1,147.98, giving them a profit of £831.56 – more than double Evolve’s. It’s a crushing defeat for Evolve, their second in as many tasks.
Endeavour’s treat is to travel to Brussels, where they get to sample Belgian beer around the Grand Place. Evolve’s punishment is to travel to the Cafe of Broken Dreams™, where they get to sample overbrewed tea out of cracked mugs and everyone decides they’re going to gang up on Rebecca for picking the wrong location, even though in reality all she did was suggest it as an option.
Back in the boardroom the team are criticised for wasting £123 of materials because they couldn’t calculate their ingredient mix properly. Rebecca and Uzma’s feud comes to the surface. And Sugar can’t resist making the “couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery” joke.
Karren Brady pretty much sums it up:
The whole thing went badly from start to finish. Two reasons: numbers and location.
Tim brings Francesca (numbers) and Rebecca (location) back to face Sugar’s final decision. We’re reminded that Rebecca sold more than anyone else, Tim had no real control over the task and that you wouldn’t trust Francesca to count to one. Indeed Francesca’s range of chewing-on-a-lemon facial expressions would have made her doppelganger Stella English – who wasn’t dubbed the ‘Ice Queen’ for nothing – look positively jovial by comparison.
Tim blames Rebecca for the failure of the task. Rebecca and Francesca both blame Tim – as does Sugar, who directs the Digit of Doom™ at him and sends him on his way.
It’s hard to argue with that decision. Tim seemed to be a nice guy prone to allowing others to make the tough decisions for him, and he got pretty much everything wrong that he could get wrong in this task.
In the Taxi to Obscurity™, he was still upbeat:
The team was all partly responsible for the failure of this task but at the end of the day I did mess up big time and I have to be accountable for that. I do feel that you haven’t seen the last of me. This new drinks business will be launching, so watch out.
Like I said, a nice guy. And while it’s not always true that nice guys finish last in business, they certainly tend to get discarded pretty quickly in the cut-throat world that is The Apprentice.
How the task was won (and lost)
A lot was made about the importance of numbers and location in this task. Both are true, but what is never mentioned is that there is an underlying assumption that trade sales and retail sales are equally important to the success of dual trade/retail selling assignments such as this one and last year’s condiments task. That is patently not the case. Retail sales are far more important (and of course location is a big part of that), which explains why the abject failure of Endeavour’s trade sub-team had virtually no impact on the final result.
In the real world, selling to the trade gives you high volume but low profit (as the seller has to add on their own profit margin), whereas selling directly to consumers yields lower volumes but higher margins. When you have a relatively low volume of stock to shift, the best solution is to focus on retail sales as much as you dare, to the almost total exclusion of trade sales.
Here’s the maths. Early in the episode, Zee states that each cask holds 40.9 litres, which is 72 pints. During the episode, we see casks being sold to trade for between £70 and £90, which equates to between 97p and £1.25 per pint. The boys’ casks cost £53 each to produce (74p per pint), meaning profit margin per pint on trade sales for the teams was between 23p and 51p (assuming Evolve’s production costs were similar to Endeavour’s).
Selling direct to the public, we saw pints being sold at the beer festivals at £4 per pint – a profit of £3.26 each. In other words, retail sales generated between six and 14 times as much cash profit per pint as trade sales. Even at £2 per pint, which is what Endeavour started at on the South Bank, the retail to trade profit multiple is at least 2.5 times. Put another way, even at a starting price of £2 per pint, a team dealing exclusively in public sales which sold only half its stock would still have made more profit than a team selling all its inventory to the trade. (I realise that the unseen task rules probably dictate you have to produce X number of casks for trade and make a minimum of Y sales calls, but the basic principle is the same: worry more about your public sales than your trade sales.)
Here endeth the lesson.
Next week the teams must devise an innovative piece of flat-pack furniture. How about something that doesn’t require a PhD in engineering to understand the assembly instructions?
The Apprentice continues on Wednesdays on BBC1, with companion show You’re Fired following immediately afterwards on BBC2.