The Apprentice episode eleven: Failing to plan or planning to fail?

Dan Martin
Former editor
BusinessZone.co.uk
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JJ Harding, co-founder of distribution company JogPost, who successfully pitched on Dragons' Den, reviews the latest episode of The Apprentice.

This week, Lord Sugar developed a challenge that was specifically designed to expose the individuals' overall business acumen.
The task: develop a business plan, create a new affordable luxury product range, and pitch it to experts.
After last week's double firing, Team Sterling was left with just one lone candidate, Ricky, and Team Phoenix with four members. To balance the teams, Lord Sugar instructed Tom to join Ricky in Team Sterling and from them Ricky was given the job of project manager. Having only previously been PM once and lost, Adam was chosen to lead Nick and Jade in team Phoenix.
Successful businesses need to try and stand out when entering new markets. Good business sense dictates that; the teams needed to quickly identify niches, then plan and develop USPs (unique selling points) for their product range. To do this well they needed a good understanding of their target market.
Saving time, Team Sterling intelligently chose to enter the male grooming sector, one they know well. The team identified a growing trend for heritage and traditional style set ups and created their product and plan around that concept. Benefiting immediately from this choice, they went on quickly to research in a salon, identifying key selling techniques and gaining valuable knowledge to use in the pitch. They settled on a range of three products and created a brand name 'Modern Gentleman' in keeping with their concept.
Team Phoenix, however, chose to work with confectionary and chocolate products. But with little knowledge of the industry they had to spend their time learning about the market just to identify their target consumers, something the other team sorted out very quickly. Perhaps they should have gone with a hot chocolate range as Nick initially suggested - he sells it already and understands the market. A bad decision by project manager Adam I feel.
As a result, while in the confectionary shop, Team Phoenix wasted their crucial opportunity to discover business secrets and ended up dizzily exploring products, extracting nothing useful for their pitch or business plan.
Adam clumsily led his team along with no real target or direction and ended up with a mish mash of products, no company identity, and no strategy of how to place the products in the market. Fortunately, Jade came up with the name 'Sweet Thing' and the product range pretty much on her own.  Except for the jellies!
During the retail experience test day, both teams smartly implemented ‘retailtainment’ and consumer experiences. Team Sterling went for giving clients a male grooming session while the other team chose to entice customers with drinks and cocktails to enjoy with their chocolate and confectionary. This works great for keeping customers engaged and excited about the product. Nice tip!
Where Team Sterling fell down was in visual merchandising - a vital part of successful retailing and they should have paid more attention to detail to product presentation. As Lord Sugar pointed out, they needed to create more of a 'wow' factor.
For the final standoff, the two teams pitched their plans to the experts. First up, Tom and Ricky from Team Sterling delivered a well-rehearsed pitch, crisp and to the point. They combined an excellent use of figures and an excellent understanding of their overall business plan with great effect. Great planning and good execution.
Team Phoenix (especially Adam) found out that the hardest time to present is when you don’t know what you’re talking about. This is a prime example of what happens when working without plans or strategies. Team Phoenix failed to clearly set out the vision for their brand, failed to explain how they aim to enter the market, failed to deliver on the visual “wow” factor they created, and failed to convince the experts they even had a valid proposal.
Predictably, misguided Team Phoenix lost the task resulting in project manager Adam rightfully getting fired.
Overall a lesson that good planning and preparation can make the difference between success and failure. There was a gulf between the two teams that on the night was all too clear. It will be a lesson that Adam will not forget!

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