The Apprentice: Double trouble

Apprentice logoNot everyone was a happy camper as Lord Sugar tasked the teams with selling at the Motorhome and Caravan Show. Potential suppliers were scared off, disastrous product choices were made and after a defeat so one-sided it made Christians versus Lions look like an even contest, Sugar felt compelled to jab his Digit of Doom™ at not one but two members of the losing team. But who?

Apprentice s9 e7 caravans

Natalie was once again all at sea in this task (Image: BBC)

Carry on camping

The candidates are told to pack overnight bags – Jason Leech packs a giant teddy bear, as you do – and summoned to the Tower of London, one of the capital’s most popular locations for both overseas and domestic tourists. Sugar draws a tenuous link to the caravanning industry and the venue for this week’s task, the Motorhome and Caravan Show at Birmingham’s NEC. With the candidates wearing expressions ranging from horror to sniggering, he tells them it’s big business. He’s right, actually: the UK Camping and Caravanning Club has over half a million members.

Neil moved to Evolve and became project manager (Image: BBC)

Neil moved to Evolve and became project manager (Image: BBC)

Each team must select two from a range of accessories, plus one other big-ticket item (which effectively renders accessory sales redundant). Sugar tells everyone this is a pure selling task – it isn’t, actually, as the key to success is as much about ensuring you get the right products as it is about selling them – and specifically tells Jason he can’t hide as a result. In a minor Apprenti-Shuffle™, he then sends Neil Clough over to Evolve to join Jason, Jordan PoultonLuisa Zissman and Francesca MacDuff-Varley, leaving Myles Mordaunt, Leah TottonAlex MillsKurt Wilson and Natalie Panayi on Endeavour.

Neil becomes Evolve’s project manager while Alex – the only remaining candidate yet to lead a team – is overlooked in favour of Kurt, apparently because he went on a caravan holiday as a child. That decided, the teams head off to Birmingham. En route, Alex and Kurt play a caravan-spotting game during which they identify that most caravanners are aged 50-plus. It’s as valid a way of discovering the obvious as any, although personally I did my research for this task by watching Carry On Camping:

Caravan of love

In tried and trusted Apprentice tradition, the teams split in two on arrival, with half visiting the exhibition to seek out high-ticket items while their teammates pore over accessories including a roof-box-cum-boat, a folding chair with a roof, a kids’ camping adventure kit and an electric bike.

Does Luisa expect electricity wherever she goes? (Image: BBC)

Does Luisa expect electricity wherever she goes? (Image: BBC)

For Endeavour, Myles, Natalie and Leah conduct their product selection, but while Myles schmoozes their potential suppliers to the point of nauseating Nick Hewer, the girls struggle to empathise and alienate the vendor for the electric bike by pushing a little too hard for a discount. Meanwhile, Jordan, Luisa and Francesca are suitably enthusiastic, clearly winning suppliers over with their approach, although Luisa wins the Susan Ma ‘Do The French Love Their Children?’ Award for asking, “Do you have plugs when you go camping?”

Both sub-teams want the electric bikes and the kids’ boxes, but in both cases the vendor is won over by Evolve, leaving Endeavour to fall back on their second-choice products, the roof-box boat and folding chair. (Bet they wish they still had the Foldo!)

At the exhibition, Kurt and Alex and Neil and Jason seek out their big-ticket item. This comes down to a choice between a retro-style camper van (which sells for up to £17,000) and a collapsible trailer tent (around £11,000). The latter is targeted more at the older demographic who are the main visitors and purchasers at the show, and sells in larger numbers. Neil, despite feeling hampered by “big girl’s blouse” Jason and his obvious attraction to the camper van, makes an objective decision to go for the trailer. Alex is unsure about the same product and allows his personal preference for the camper to move him to convince Kurt to take a risk on the camper van.

(Not a) happy camper

"What do you mean, I can't sell camper vans?" (Image: BBC)

“What do you mean, I can’t sell camper vans?” (Image: BBC)

The following morning, both teams get ready to sell. One half of each team will sell their two selected accessories, the other their chosen big-ticket item. Kurt chooses Myles (who has sold to rich people before) and himself (because he wants to prove he can sell) to promote the camper van. This alienates Alex, who keeps insisting it should be him because he sells similarly bespoke products for his real-life business. Obviously, flogging tombstones and customised plaques over the internet is exactly the same as selling camper vans face-to-face. Nonetheless, Captain Eyebrows™ teams up with Natalie and Leah and sets to work selling roof-box boats and camping chairs with the same flair for market-stall patter he exhibited during the farm shop task. He isn’t helped by Natalie insisting that the boat’s bench seat must be a table – but then this is the same candidate who thought a cow was a sheep or a dog on that same task.

Meanwhile, over at the retro camper van, Myles starts out being drawn into long conversations with browsers who have no intention of making a purchase, although he soon learns to pre-screen potential customers by first checking whether they’re intending to buy. He’s still a million times better than Kurt, whose sales technique Nick describes as “lackadaisical” (I’d say it was more ‘sleep-inducing’). Without a single sale as the end of trading approaches. Kurt suggests the ploy of seconding Leah from the accessories team to serve as “eye candy”. Upon hearing that Kurt hasn’t summoned her, Natalie looks crestfallen because he hasn’t spotted the camper van super saleswoman within her crying out to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world. With time running out, we see Leah coming close to securing a sale.

Evolve start out slowly. Their electric bikes (£949) and kids’ boxes (£100) are priced too high to attract impulse buyers, with only Luisa managing to shift one of each before lunchtime. This leaves Jordan increasingly frustrated at his lack of success as the day progresses.

However, over at their trailer tent pitch, Jason’s theatrical buffoonery and occasional Spoonerisms (“it’s an extional opstra”) working a treat on potential customers. Indeed he ends up closing the first big deal of the day for around £10,000, much to Neil’s consternation. However, this drives him on to close a sale of his own before the end of the day, shaking hands on a sale worth £10,500.

Boardroom brouhaha™

This wasn’t just a loss, it was a total annihilation.

The result of the task is fairly obvious, and the pre-results reveal interrogation consequently brief. Sugar wonders if the reason Alex hasn’t been allowed to be PM yet is that people don’t trust him. He notes that a lack of enthusiasm and pursuing a discount too aggressively cost Endeavour’s sub-team their preferred accessories. Neil explains that he selected the fold-away tent over the camper van because it had sold more units previously and was a better fit for the target market.

Anyway, we learn that Endeavour sold a modest £1,479 in accessories and no camper vans. On the other side of the table, Evolve won the task on accessory sales alone – £3,116, despite falling well below their target numbers on both the bikes and the kids’ kits – but rubbed salt into the wounds by selling three collapsible campers for £30,499, giving them a total of £33,615. It’s a landslide – for every £1 Endeavour sold, Evolve managed nearly £23. Natalie’s face is a picture of almost comical dismay – she has still won only one task – while for Myles it is a first taste of defeat.

Sugar sends Evolve back to Manchester to do time trial laps of the velodrome with Sir Chris Hoy – but not before Sugar summons Jason back in to congratulate him on his sale – while Endeavour trudge off in a never-ending spiral of despair to (Not the) Cafe of Broken Dreams™ for their post-mortem.

There was no saving Kurt in the boardroom (Image: BBC)

There was no saving Kurt in the boardroom (Image: BBC)

Back in the boardroom Kurt is hammered for ignoring both the target market and the facts – other than that: brilliant – when it came to selecting the retro camper. Alex tries to defend it based on the fact that he personally liked it but Sugar’s having none of it, pointing out that it’s not personal opinion that matters and that Neil left it even though he loved it too.

Nick then throws in Kurt’s “eye candy” comment, dispelling Leah’s thought that she was brought over purely for her proven selling skills. Amazingly, Natalie doesn’t immediately accuse Kurt of sexism. Instead she tries to say that it should have been her who was brought over because she works in recruitment/head-hunting and that means that she is clearly the best-qualified person ever to sell hundreds of camper vans. O-kaay. Using similar logic, I can quote large swathes of Yes, Prime Minister verbatim and am therefore qualified to run the country.

It’s pointed out that Leah came closest to making a sale, although I would point out that – as has been demonstrated many times in the show’s past – considered purchases of high-priced items such as these are rarely made before the back end of the day anyway, so to put Leah’s near-success down to her selling skills is somewhat disingenuous.

Kurt, who by now is under attack from all sides and clearly in trouble, elects to bring back Alex and Natalie. Both disagree vehemently with his selection and Natalie mutters darkly about Kurt being tactical, but it’s the right final three: Kurt chose the wrong big-ticket item and was a poor salesman. Alex had a role in that decision and quietly hid away on the accessories stand on the day. Natalie’s inclusion might have been partly tactical but was also based on the fact that she performed poorly on both days of the task, recording the lowest sales in her sub-team at the show.

Alex continues to point out that he should have been given a chance to sell the camper van. Meanwhile Natalie does manage to keep her temper under control better than in her two previous boardroom visits, but nonetheless resorts to her usual defence mechanism of the wisdom of 20-20 hindsight and suggesting that she should have had more say in product selection because of her oft-stated interest in fashion. Remember, this was the project manager who championed the Tidy-Sidey. And then she plays her joker as she starts crying.

In the end, there’s no defending Kurt. His lack of dynamism and repeated errors of judgement on both this and previous tasks leave Sugar with no choice but to fire him.

Third time unlucky for Natalie (Image: BBC)

Third time unlucky for Natalie (Image: BBC)

He isn’t finished, though. He questions whether Natalie’s presence in the boardroom was a tactical move, but not so much to stop him from deciding to exercise the Digit of Doom™ a second time and send her on her way too. The fact was that Natalie had failed to show any real business savvy throughout the process, or indeed anything to make her stand out other than a talent for boardroom histrionics and a rather unpleasant “I told you so” manner after the event (rather than trying to do anything about things at the time). A successful entrepreneur does something about their mistakes in real-time, rather than commenting on what might have been once the horse has bolted.

In Taxi to Obscurity I™, Natalie keeps playing the ‘tactical’ card:

It is upsetting that Kurt brought me back in tactically and it had nothing to do with the task. But you know I should have shone and shown Lord Sugar what I was about.

The second part of her statement is spot on: she never shone enough in the tasks to give Sugar a reason to keep her. As for her demise being the result of tactics? No. Natalie was fired not because of tactics, but in spite of them – Sugar made this perfectly clear in his pre-firing comment. She just wasn’t very good. Blaming others for things you could have done something about yourself will only take you so far.

Taxi to Obscurity II™ contains a rather more phlegmatic Kurt:

I’m okay. I’m upset that obviously we lost the task, but in a way I knew the risk I was taking – and I lost.

Kurt: a nice guy, level-headed but with questionable judgement, and he never really showed the get-up-and-go to suggest that he is likely to be a successful entrepreneur. Good luck to him, though.

Next week: The teams must come up with an online dating concept and an advertising campaign to support it. Not so much match.com as Dating Disasters, I suspect.

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

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9 Comments on The Apprentice: Double trouble

  1. I’ll admit that when I saw the preview for this episode, I thought that Luisa’s question was completely unnecessary, but when I watched it it occurred to me that she was better off asking that when they were looking at the products and not, say, on selling day.

    Tim, I enjoy your reviews every week and I especially like your blog posts on your other blog. They are wonderful to read; thank you!

    • Thanks Bryley, appreciate the kind comment!

      I know what you mean. Better to ask up front, but taken out of context it still comes across as an amusingly silly question. The perils of not being in control of your own edit, eh?

  2. A great episode and a top review. Next week’s look epic – unfortunately, I’m away managing a school trip and wont be able to watch it until Saturday!!

  3. Generally, agree, Tim, though actually, anyone in Endeavour could have been brought back. I thought they all had a poor week, and this must rank as one on the biggest beatings that a team has taken.

    I have been struck by how much more personality differences have been seen this year. I’m not sure if it’s an editorial decision or whether this bunch really do dislike each other as much as they appear to.

    Anyway, you can read my thoughts at http://markdecosemo.com/2013/06/13/the-apprentice-week-7-caravan-of-love/

    • I think the differences have been played up in the edit to an extent, and certainly this lot aren’t backwards in hiding their distaste for each other. They’re quite immature in that respect – in any team environment there are going to be people you don’t get on with. That’s life. Deal with it.

      Not sure about retail-based tasks, but there have certainly been bigger beatings in selling-to-trade tasks – the biggest being the £800,000 to zero in the biscuits task two years ago. Although that victory was built on ‘Jedi’ Jim Eastwood promising Asda an utterly unrealistic multi-million pound TV campaign, Harry Potter sponsorship, the entire team’s first-born children and the moon on a stick.

  4. Adam Stone // June 19, 2013 at 12:51 am // Reply

    We are now down to the final eight candidates in The Apprentice: Alex, Francesca, Jason, Jordan, Leah, Luisa, Myles and Neil. All of the final eight are all more than capable of winning the whole thing but I am not sure if Jason will get much further in the process, and think it is highly unlikely that he will win as he just doesn’t seem to have that killer instinct in business, but you could have said the same about Tom a couple of series ago. I am not convinced that Luisa will win either, not because she wouldn’t be capable of doing do, but because of her attitude and her tendency to think she knows better than anyone else. Francesca has not been that successful so far in some of the tasks, and failed miserably as a project manager, which makes me think that she wouldn’t be likely to win the whole thing either. For me it is between Myles, Neil and Jordan. Myles looks like the sort of person that Lord Sugar would choose to do business with and has probably got a really glitzy business plan lined up which I don’t think applies so much to the other two. Neil and Jordan are quite similar, and I don’t mean because they do have a similar look about them, but the fact that they both seem like the sort of people who will stop at nothing to get what they want and both of them have done rather well in the tasks so far and seem to be impressing Lord Sugar. Out of the finale eight I would say that the final will be between Jordan and Neil.

    • Hi Adam. Neil’s increasingly looking like the winner for me, not least because his narrative is spookily similar to Ricky Martin’s last year. We’ve not really seen very much to impress from many of the candidates this year, although I do suspect that’s because we’ve spent so much time focussing on their errors and personality clashes instead.

      • Adam Stone // June 19, 2013 at 11:58 pm // Reply

        Hi Tim, Neil does stand a good chance as does Myles and Jordan. I am a bit torn at the moment as to who I think might win.

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