It turns out that Lost isn’t the only show celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. Unlike Lost though, Alan Sugar’s The Apprentice is still running. The business competition returned last week with season number ten and began with a surprise. Rather than the usual sixteen contestants there were twenty Lord Sugar wannabes in this year’s batch. This came with the caveat that, at any given moment, Lord Sugar could decide to fire more than one of the applicants. The first task was so bad I actually thought he might have fired all of the final three.
While some may consider being more frivolous with the firing to be gimmicky, it actually adds some much needed suspense to the show. There have also been complaints recently that the competition was becoming dull with the same type of tasks being assigned each year. But I actually haven’t felt that. Although the tasks are similar there’s generally enough deviation to make it interesting. The wearable technology task, for example, is nothing like any fashion or technology task previously shown. It required an understanding of technology, an eye for fashion and enough perception to know what people would actually wear. Not that any of candidates had any of those qualities.
The mixture of different products and added fear that anyone could go if they show themselves to be exceptionally poor is what keeps me tuning in week to week. And this week the teams had to make candles. The style of the task is similar to the beer brewing assignment from task from last year although with obviously differing markets. Although neither team really knew the market. Tenacity project manager Katie Bulmer-Cooke’s previously experience was the smell of her own home while Summit team leader Roisin Hogan is an accountant. So both managers for this task had little business knowledge of the candle market.
Having market knowledge doesn’t always help anyway. Lord Sugar made a point of telling the candidates that this task was all about margins, advisement that both Katie and Roisin took on board. It is just a pity that the rest of Roisin’s team didn’t make a note of it. Admittedly, Roisin was pushing for prices between £20-25 and only advocating lower prices when necessary, whereas Katie was gunning hard with high end prices of £40 and offering £25 as the lowest reduced price. Roisin’s sub team, however, immediately started selling at the bottom line as soon as they reached the market. Katie’s sub team also struggled, failing to sell later in the afternoon, but selling less at a higher price meant that they had more profit.
It came as a surprise that Tenacity won really, given the garish, yellow candle that they created. I can’t imagine who paid upwards of £30 for that. Summit did everything right in terms of creation, a neutral coloured candle which clients liked the scent of. It was just in the selling where the team was let down, so it was less surprising that the two weakest sellers, Lindsay Booth and Nurun Ahmed, got the finger this week. Lindsay’s elimination must be the most amicable firing in the show’s history. She was so agreeable to her own failings that I almost expected her to resign. Lord Sugar got in there first though, and Lindsay which back to her swimming academy.
Nurun Ahmed fought for her position but I thought she should have gone in week two. While Summit’s camera t-shirt might have had some appeal to the niche vlogging market I can understand why none of the retailers made any orders given the privacy risk. But it still sounded and looked better than the frankenstein creation that Tenacity made. It had flashing lights, solar panels, built in heaters and a phone charger, after which I almost expected a go go gadget propeller to allow the wearer to fly. The individual ideas had some merit but Nurun completely a skewed both the market research and the advice of the designer but failing to choose one concept.
This week though, Nurun’s failures were of a different kind entirely. Despite experience selling in a market place, Nurun had the second lowest sale figures for the entire team. On the You’re Fired post-show, Nurun did make a point that the markets in which she is familiar are very different to London markets. That’s a fair comment, but any selling experience at all should have been beneficial here and on top of that where exactly does she think her business with Lord Sugar would be situated? It would be British business and as such she would need an understanding of British trends. Her lack of selling ability, coupled with indecisive leadership on the previous task, more than warranted her firing this week.
That being said, there were other candidates who could have been fired as well. James Hill, the sub team leader of Summit, was largely to blame for selling the up market candles at low prices. But Lord Sugar is always slow to fire the arrogant, talkative applicants so long as they sell well. Plus, when the proud ones eventually come down off their high horse, they usually prove themselves to be fairly decent businessmen and women. On the other side, there is Sarah Dales. As a former hypnotherapist, one would have thought she could have coerced a few more people into purchasing candles. Though I actually agree with her insistence that £40 is too much for a candle, her poor selling capabilities and her directionless leadership in week one probably means that as soon as she’s unlucky enough to be on the losing team, she’ll be out the door.
Three weeks in, and I’m thoroughly enjoying The Apprentice. At this stage, it is difficult to pin one contestant down to win the business partnership because so many of the candidates grow over the course of the series and we don’t know their business proposals in detail yet. Even good business sense won’t win the competition if their plan is incomprehensible. And we probably won’t know the plans in detail until the final four interview stage. Until then, just enjoy the ride.