The Apprentice episode four: More shabby than chic

Dan Martin
Former editor
BusinessZone.co.uk
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John Pooley, managing director of The Data Partnership, reviews the fourth episode in the latest series of The Apprentice.

Last night’s Apprentice saw teams ‘Sterling’ and ‘Phoenix’ tasked with “converting one man’s junk into another man’s treasure”. In reality, this meant flogging a load of second-hand junk to the gullible and unsuspecting hipsters of London’s uber trendy Brick Lane. As anyone who’s been to East London would know, style and good taste is certainly not high on the agenda so you would have thought it would be the perfect task for the average Apprentice contestant!
The teams approached the task with varying degrees of success; Sterling went down the “up-cycling”/adding value road, whilst Phoenix took an overly cautious approach and went with a buy and do very little strategy. Strangely, the latter’s approach seem to work quite well and the fact their pop-up shop was virtually void of any stock didn’t stop them from going on and triumphing in this week’s task.
What I found troubling about the whole affair was that despite having supposedly ‘some of the brightest business brains in the country’, none of them thought that doing some market research about the location and target audience might be a good idea. Indeed, when the teams were trawling the local second-hand stores and car boots, they product choices were based more on their own personal preferences than that of their audience. The adage “Assumption is the mother of all f**k ups" seems particularly apt!
Most of us would probably agree that adding value to the pile of second hand crap through ‘up-cycling’ was the right strategy to go with. But if you’re going to do it, at least delegate the job to someone who’s not completely inept with a paint brush! Most of the stock ended up looking a lot more shabby than chic and the Blue Peter-esque designs certainly didn’t fit with the target audience’s tastes and expectation.
The number one rule in business is to keep an eye on costs at all times and it’s this that ultimately led to team Sterling’s undoing. Whilst they might have generated greater revenue, their relaxed attitude to spending saw them significantly eat into their margins. Quite rightly, in the boardroom all fingers pointed at project manager Laura for her lack of control on the financial front. She could have certainly taken a leaf out of rival project manager, Tom’s book, whose frugal budget decisions ended up winning him and this team the task. As a manager you need to have a good overview of all parts of the business and you can’t overlook any part, especially those as important as cash-flow and spending.
The ability to sell effectively is a prerequisite of any successful Apprentice candidate, so I watched in horror as Jane took to the floor with the skills and technique of a second-hand car salesman. Whilst her hard-sell, pushy style might work well in certain environments, with the delicate wall-flower clientele of Brick Lane it wasn’t quite appropriate – which is putting it mildly! A good salesperson will immediately identify their prospect and adapt their style and approach accordingly.
This brings me onto my last point – preparation and presentation. I must admit, that like Nick, I laughed when I first saw the sparseness of Phoenix’s store, but what they lacked in stock they made up for in presentation. It was clearly laid out and every item had its place. Unlike rival’s Sterling, who 200 items were scattered all over the shop making it look a right state! Whether it’s the lay-out of a shop or a client meeting, you should prepare and look presentable, after all, as we all know in business as in life, first impressions are everything.
If I had a spare £250,000 to invest I’d rather ride my luck with this weekend’s Grand National rather than put it in the hands of one of these self-proclaimed experts!

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