“It’s about choosing the right products, the right audience and seeing if they can cope with extreme pressure,” said Sir Alan as he sent the Apprentice-ees off to build their TV careers to yet more dizzying heights. Well, presenting on a satellite shopping channel. (The TV shopping market, as it turns out, is worth an impressive £1bn.)
But actually, this week’s task turned out to be more about risk. No entrepreneur ever got ahead by playing it safe, and a couple of the apprentices had to learn that the hard way.
First off, Yasmina, leading James and Deborah. Yasmina decided playing it safe by aiming for volume not margin was the best strategy for success. “Let’s not be too risky. Go for low price and follow your instinct,” she said as the team headed off to pick their products from a vast warehouse of cut-price dreams.
With the adage quantity not quality clearly in mind, team Yasmina ended up with a leaf-grabber worth £24.99 as their most expensive product, and an oh-so-fetching manmade poncho-scarf-hybrid as the cheapest, at £9.99, in a range of suitably bile-worthy colours and faux-tie-dye effects (yes, really).
(Incidentally, allow us just one Jamesism this week: “You can get polyester that’s manmade?” Seriously, where does he come from?)
So, no risk-taking and low-prices from Yasmina. Sir Alan, as you may have guessed, didn’t like it.
Watching in secret as the team fumbled their way through sales – even, at one point, getting the price wrong on some unfathomably vile hairclips – he bemoaned the fact ‘there isn’t one killer product, no high price product’.
We feel your pain Sugar. They never learn.
Even when previous tasks have followed virtually identical templates - pick a couple of products then sell them, making sure you stick to the key business lesson: pick some low-risk, cheap products to sell in bulk, and one or two higher-risk but much higher price items to bring in the big bucks.
It’s not that difficult.
After all, Howard’s team managed it, picking up a metallic-leaf emblazoned leather jacket (yes, predictably horrendous, although even Alan said he could see it selling) and a low-fat chip pan. Both neared £150, working nicely alongside much cheaper items in the £10-£20 range.
Unfortunately for Howard, one of the lower price items happened to be a craft kit encouraging one to stick sequins to a bit of foam laying dubious claim to being shaped like a cat. Even the kind of people who watch QVC and JML weren’t willing to spend their pennies on that.
So Howard’s strategy was right – but his team’s selling was wrong. None of them mentioned prices enough, they didn’t lead viewers to the phone number or the website to convert product interest to sales, they just banged on about their products. And, as we all know, interest in a product is worth nothing without a sell at the end.
Which meant that in the end, Howard’s team lost, with £1,376.73 in sales versus Yasmina’s team’s £1,541.88. It was unfortunate, really, as Sir Alan clearly acknowledged Howard had the better strategy.
But Deborah’s such a whirlwind salesperson she managed to pull Yasmina’s team out of the darkness of awful products and shift so many pukey ponchos the producers of the show said she was almost at a professional standard. Deborah is doubtless a one to watch.
Howard, on the other hand, was the one to watch shuffle sorrowfully down the corridor. Sir Alan axed him for being too risk-averse (he didn’t go for an electronic pet dinosaur Lorraine was pushing that Alan liked, because it was more than £200 – “but novelty value is what sells!” Alan exhaled, exasperatedly). “Your actions lack ambition,” Nick told Howard. “He’s an organisational person, and it’s a sign of the times, but I haven’t got time for just ordinary people,” said Sir Alan.
Business hopefuls, take note – if Sir Alan Sugar says entrepreneurial risk-taking is the way forward in times like these, you better make damn sure you start upping the stakes.