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Salim Earle

The Chemistry Group

Business Analyst

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TV Review: The Apprentice Week 4 – Quality over quantity

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After another saucy (sorry!) episode last week, I was looking forward to seeing what Lord Sugar and his trusty aides had in store for our 13 remaining hopefuls this week.

Once again they did not disappoint.

First of all, Lord Sugar injected a breath of fresh air into the proceedings by springing this week’s task upon the candidates who had, up until the shrill tones of the house phone, thought they would be enjoying a morning’s rest huddled around the Ping-Pong table.
 
Instead, they were all herded into taxis and rushed off to The Old Cinema in Chiswick.
 
This week, the two teams went head to head in what I can only describe as a ‘charity/antique shop challenge’. Given £1000 each, the teams had to source second-hand stock and resell it at a profit. Or as Ricky Martin put it, “we’re selling crap and turning it into style”.
 
The old classic: buy low, sell high…or high-ish…or not at all as the case may be.
As per usual, the team who makes the most profit wins, and one of the members of the losing team will be fired. Simple! Ok, we all know by now that it is never that simple in the world of The Apprentice and for team Sterling this was most certainly the case.
 
After a bit more tactical shuffling from Lord Sugar (Ricky to Sterling and Jade to Phoenix) both teams sat down to decide upon project leaders. Tom, a fine wine investor, put himself forward to manage Phoenix and Laura, boasting experience in setting up a retail unit, was unanimously chosen over Duane to manage team Sterling.
 
Tom opted for a cautious/frugal approach, telling his team to spend as little as possible (and by that I mean £200!) on a small number of items that could be sold at a large profit.
 
Completely different strategies
 
Laura, on the other hand, opted for a ‘turning trash into cash’ policy and instructed her team to buy as much tat as possible which they could upcycle “with buttons” and sell at a significantly marked up price.
 
Brilliant! The Apprentice had yet again thrown up an epic battle of two completely different strategies from which only one would rise victorious at the end. Given the outcome of this week’s task, the words “(team) Phoenix” and “ashes” come to mind.
 
Team Phoenix, with their pocket money in hand, went off to an auction house in Greenwich where they proceeded to buy three items, and take several more from the bin outside the building. That’s right, rummaging through the bins!
 
Adam, once again, showed all his class as he dived head first into the pile of rubbish emerging with a rusty old pan and half a wine rack! Result!
 
Team Sterling’s sub team of Laura, Duane and Ricky threw caution to the wind and bought everything in sight from chair legs to suitcases to a broken table, whilst Gabrielle ordered the materials to convert this tat into something resembling “shabby chic” (which I believe is the posh way of saying tat!).
 
However, Gabrielle’s converting of tat into ‘shabby chic’ was not complete until it had been delicately branded with a Union Jack. Duane was the first to notice the huge difference this made, “it looks like I painted it, and I can’t paint!”. Cheers Duane!
 
Both teams then set about arranging their retail space with team Phoenix quickly realising they had enough space to swing a cat.
 
However, they had stuck to their guns and maintained the cool, minimalist theme that they hoped would be a hit with the “young trendy with gelled hair” (thanks Mr. Hewer) of Brick Lane. They called it Retro Station.
 
The retail space (called Vintage Gold) for team Sterling looked more like the inside of a removal van. Enough said!
 
Minimalistic success
 
Day 2 arrived and it was all hands to the deck as the teams tried to sell the contents of their shops to the public.
 
Unsurprisingly, team Phoenix and Retro Station were a huge success. Their minimalistic approach appealed to the Brick Lane crowd and their carefully chosen tat (even the stuff from the bin) was selling quickly.
 
So quickly, in fact, that Tom, or Scrooge as I like to call him, had to send out his troops, undoubtedly armed with only a fistful of change, to buy more stock!
 
Vintage Gold, on the other hand, was struggling. At one point there were so many Union Jacks in view that it looked like the Jubilee had come early. In true Apprentice style there was a late flourish of activity, but with vases being reduced from £60 to £2.50 the result was inevitable.
 
Our 13 hapless hopefuls plodded into the boardroom for the results where it was announced that team Phoenix had made £1063 profit compared to team Sterling’s £783.
 
Congratulations to Tom for understanding the task, the audience, and for sticking to his strategy! I told you it was simple!
 
After the usual rounds of finger pointing and bickering, Laura decided to bring Gabrielle aka the Union Jack and Jane, who I like to call ‘the provider’ after she raked in an impressive £10 back into the boardroom.
 
Gabrielle was saved by her impressive sales during the task, but Jane could not avoid the wrinkly finger of Lord Sugar and was promptly given her marching orders. Good decision in my eyes (notice how often Jane was mentioned during this blog!).
 
So as I poured over another week’s cracking entertainment, I realised that the lesson this week might be all too predictable. However, it was fully endorsed in this episode so I have stuck to my guns.
 
Key learning – Quality over quantity
 
As you stifle your yawn, think carefully. It might be obvious, but this age old epithet has rung true once again.
 
As an individual, or a business, you should always maintain the highest personal and professional standards.
 
As soon as you let these standards slip, you lose focus of your goals and lose the essence and purpose of your existence as a business. As team Phoenix proved, it is much better to do fewer things, but be excellent at every one of them, than to sacrifice and dilute the quality through offering more.
 
In his book ‘Good to Great’, Jim Collins uses the interesting, and relevant, analogy of the Fox and the Hedgehog. The hedgehog seems slow, cautious and one dimensional in comparison to the fox’s speed, cunning and curiosity.
 
However, for all the fox’s endeavor, it can never overcome the spiky defence of the hedgehog. The hedgehog is great at what it does and is single minded in its pursuit of excellence which is why it always beats the fox.
 
Team Phoenix were the hedgehog in this week’s task; they stuck to their strategy and proved that quality will always sell itself.
 
Team Sterling, and more specifically Jane, learnt this brutal but simple truth this week. With over 200 items (compared to team Phoenix’s 50), Laura and her team lost complete control over the quality of their goods and lost sight of the purpose of their task: to make junk profitable, not worthless.
 
Team Phoenix proved that a simple strategy based upon quality was more than enough to keep customers happy and to make good profits.
 
Four weeks in and three girls down…bring on next week!
 
 
Salim Earle is a business analyst at talent management consultancy, The Chemistry Group.
 
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Salim Earle

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