With two of the six remaining candidates due to depart in the penultimate task of this season of Young Apprentice, tensions were always likely to be high and mistakes were destined to be made. Neither team shone on a sunny day at WOMAD as they struggled to sell eco-friendly cardboard toilets and portable self-powered washing machines to well-to-do festival-goers who were left bemused by both the products and some of the selling techniques used in a desperate attempt to build their businesses. But ultimately a failure to sell washing machines left Odyssey in a spin, and Steven Cole and Andrew Tindall were hung out to dry one step short of the final.
Portaloo, I was defeated, you won the war
The six surviving Apprenti-Kids™ have barely been reunited back at the Apprenti-Mansion™ after last week’s boardroom when Lord Sugar, Nick Hewer and Karren Brady decide to pay them a house call to initiate their next challenge. The task is to select two products to sell off stalls for a day at the WOMAD festival – that’s the World of Music, Arts and Dance - at Charlton Park in Wiltshire, which takes place at the end of July. Founded in 1980 (Peter Gabriel is one of the co-founders) it is an international arts festival which celebrates the world’s many forms of music, arts and dance, and therefore attracts an older and more worldly demographic than most others.
The teams are each given £1,500 seed capital to invest in stock, with the aim being to maximise their total assets (sales plus purchase value of unsold stock). This is the most ‘real’ business task the candidates must face, as it judges the teams on the value of their business as a going concern, not purely on sales.
The teams are left unchanged, meaning that Odyssey consists of Steven, Andrew and Lucy Beauvallet, while Platinum remains as Maria Doran, Ashleigh Porter-Exley and Patrick McDowell. In keeping with this season’s recurring theme underlining the candidates’ lack of academic or other knowledge, none of them – forgivably on this occasion – seem to have heard of WOMAD, although Maria thinks it sounds “like a farmer’s market”.
Both Steven – an events organiser and festival-goer – and Lucy volunteer to lead Odyssey, with Andrew opting for the latter. Meanwhile it’s Ashleigh versus Patrick for Platinum. Maria prefers Ashleigh but as she has already been project manager twice she steps aside to allow Patrick to lead, as long as he allows her to have input on pricing decisions. As if she wouldn’t make her opinion heard even if he didn’t! Maria is crestfallen and understandably concerned.
The teams split up to select products and conduct market research. The eight products on offer include solar-powered fan hats, onesie animal suits, springy trainers, an umbrella seat stick, vegan face paint, a portable toilet which looks suspiciously like a cardboard box, a self-powered washing machine and, er, something else. It quickly becomes clear that both teams want the portaloo, with Patrick also quickly zooming in on the umbrella seat. He books appointments with those two suppliers without waiting for Ashleigh to report back with her research findings, much to her (justified) indignation. Meanwhile Andrew goes to a shopping centre, where he can barely stop anyone to talk to let alone find out anything useful from them. Flying somewhat blind, Odyssey opt for the washing machine as their second product. Andrew thinks it will appeal to the ‘glamper’ market.
It’s an odd choice, to say the least, and a seriously flawed rationale. At a retail price of around £60 it’s a hefty purchase and none of Odyssey stop to wonder whether anyone turns up to a three-day festival expecting to do washing instead of, you know, seeing stuff. Similarly, Patrick’s choice of the umbrella seat is potentially lucrative but also caries a hefty price tag and is highly dependent on bad weather for sales. The portaloo is a seemingly obvious choice – but it’s basically just a £20 cardboard box and some bin bags. It’s not a value proposition which stacks up particularly well when you take a step back and think about it.
Anyhow, it is the portaloo negotiations which are the key focus here, with the inventor having to choose between Steven’s cold approach of getting straight down to negotiations and eventually haggling over the princely sum of £2.40 and Ashleigh’s effusive approach. It’s no competition, really, with Platinum securing the order despite offering less money, leaving Odyssey watching their hopes go down the pan. It was a terrible error by Odyssey, who should know from historical tasks that product selection is vital and that securing one’s favoured item always requires enthusiasm and interest in the product as well as good negotiation.
Andrew’s response to the news – “Oh, dash” – is remarkably restrained under the circumstances. They have to quickly resort to plan B, opting for the novelty onesies – which to me seemed like an obvious choice as a suitable festival product anyway. A possible blessing in disguise?
Bee lines and cash cows
The following morning the teams head off to WOMAD to set up their stalls and start selling. Patrick adopts a bullish approach for the portable toilets, setting the price at £25, a fiver above RRP. If you thought £20 was pushing it, then £25 really is taking the piss (and, presumably, the shit …). As one astute non-punter comments, “It’s a £25 cardboard box!” In general, starting high can be a good initial strategy as it maximises margins while still giving you the flexibility to come down if sales are slow, but on this particular occasion it is an obviously ludicrous decision and a glaring error by Patrick.
Ashleigh and Maria are left with the challenge of shifting said boxes, while Patrick’s sales tactic for the umbrella seats is to start ridiculously high (£75) and offer customers the opportunity to negotiate. On which planet he thinks this is a good idea, I’m not sure, although Nick does comment that he ends up doing okay selling. God only knows how, though.
Odyssey’s stall is manned by Steven and Lucy demonstrating their animal onesies, which include a bee costume, a pig and a cow – hopefully for them a cash cow. They seem to receive a steady stream of interested customers, both adults and children. Which makes me wonder whether the face paints might also have been a good choice as a potential cross-selling opportunity. It soon becomes apparent that pretty much anything would have been an improvement on the washing machine, as Andrew goes door-to-door – actually, tent-to-tent – trying to sell people a product they have absolutely no use for. His persistence is admirable, but he has clearly landed himself a duff product. Eventually, though, Odyssey sensibly give up on the machines and go all in on the onesies.
Meanwhile the portaloos are selling about as well as wine at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Ashleigh’s solution is to shatter the serene atmosphere by plonking herself down on one of her boxes and shouting a lot in the style of a market trader, an approach which even the ever-vocal Maria finds too forceful. It goes down about as well as Del Boy setting up shop in the lobby of Harrods might have done. Plus points for having the gumption to try something, but several minus points for not realising how inappropriate her approach is. It is not until the final hour or so that they start to seriously drop the price, with the girls shifting several units for around £15 each – a significant reduction in their margins, but profitable nonetheless. It is a tactic they should have switched to much earlier.
Both teams set about slashing prices to shift stock for even the smallest profit, knowing that every sale is potentially vital. And so it proves to be …
Steven wears bright yellow socks to the boardroom. I’m not sure why that’s important, but we get to see them anyway.
Platinum start their debrief first, with Patrick underlining just how easy a pushover he is by essentially saying that he became project manager only because Ashleigh allowed him to. He gets a strip torn off him for not waiting for the findings of Ashleigh’s research but otherwise gets off lightly. Ashleigh herself is praised for the enthusiasm which clinched her the portaloo order over Steven. Maria, who I thought had a good task overall, blots her copybook somewhat by claiming:
It was the customers at the festival who were the problem, not the products.
Oh dear. It was also presumably the fault of David Cameron, global warming and customers not being Strexy enough.
Where Ashleigh was praised, Steven is criticised for being too aggressive and failing to establish a rapport with the cardboard toilet supplier. As a festival-goer, he also shoulders a lot of the blame for the team’s poor choice of the washing machine, even though it was ultimately Lucy’s decision as PM.
Anyway, down to the results. Odyssey sold just £282.50 and had remaining stock of £1,284, giving them total assets at the end of the task of £1,566.50. Not good – barely a 4% return on their £1,500 capital. Platinum are barely better – but they are better. Sales of £373 and stock of £1,227.20 gives them victory by the meagre margin of £33.70. It’s a narrow win off the back of a not particularly impressive performance – less than 7% return – but it is a victory nonetheless. Patrick (against all expectation), Maria and Ashleigh are in the final.
There is no treat for the winners, but it still beats the trip to the Cafe of Broken Dreams™ which faces Odyssey, where Steven seems to bear the brunt of the criticism. Back in the boardroom, Sugar pans the washing machine while suggesting that the face paints and novelty fan hats – cheap enough at £10 to be an impulse purchase – were the way to go. I’m not totally convinced by the hats but the paints – particularly coupled with the onesies – made a lot of sense to me, although Odyssey might have had to drop the prices somewhat to make them more attractive.
Sugar asks each of the trio in turn why they should stay. Steven is passionate in his own defence but produces little in the way of a rational argument. Andrew struggles to overcome the fact he has lost six tasks out of seven, although Sugar does admit to liking him (having wondered whether he was one of those people he doesn’t like a couple of weeks ago). Lucy is enthusiastic but calm, and coolly points out that this is her first time in the final three.
It’s a tough choice, as Sugar himself freely admits, but with regret he directs the Digit of Doom™ at first Steven and then Andrew, offering both his business card as they depart. On balance, it’s probably the right decision. Over the course of seven weeks, Lucy was the most consistent of the three, although Steven showed enough flashes that he can consider himself very unfortunate to have lost at this stage. Andrew was, for me, a bit too up and down to ever be a credible candidate to win, although he would be no means have disgraced the final. How galling for both of them to have lost out to Patrick who, having survived his fiasco as the Worst Project Manager Evah™ in week one, somehow managed to elude the boardroom every week after that, denying Sugar the opportunity to dismiss him.
In the Riches-To-Rags Roller™, Steven is as open and honest as he has been throughout the process:
It’s a weird feeling at the moment but I’m more than happy to have got to the semi-final. Lord Sugar gave me his business card so he can obviously see the potential in me. Maybe one day we’ll be doing business with each other.
I’m going to show Lord Sugar that I can still go on and achieve what I wanted to do with the £25,000. It will just take me a bit longer to get there but I’m still determined that I’m going to do well in the future. It’s quite a big compliment by Lord Sugar – reminding him of himself when he was my age is quite a compliment.
Good luck to them both.
So, there we have it: Lucy, Ashleigh, Patrick and Maria will fight it out in next week’s final to determine the winner of Young Apprentice. May the best person win (i.e. not Patrick). I’m still backing Lucy, but Maria’s improvement since the early weeks has been marked and her energy and passion could yet carry the day.
Next week: Working in teams of two – Maria and Patrick versus Ashleigh and Lucy – the candidates must come up with a new range of sportswear and pitch it to a room of experts. And Rio Ferdinand. Just do it. Impossible is nothing. And some other slogans.
The final of Young Apprentice is on BBC1 next Thursday at 8pm. And look out for an exclusive interview with last year’s runner-up James McCullagh on the blog next week.
Young Apprentice season 3: