The Apprentice, episode 8: Paris

This week, the ‘Apprenti’ threatened to end the entente cordiale that has been in place for over 100 years with a 48 hour business excursion to Paris. They were tasked with choosing an array of UK designed goods and headed through the Euro Tunnel to sell the ideas and products of this great nation’s designers.
Among the things they were able to choose from were edible cress postcards, an electric bike, a bean bag bed, a tea pot light and a kiddie’s booster seat-come-backpack. Each item caused Susie to ‘go beyond stupid’ in her questioning of the French consumer, psyche, culture…in fact, the whole nation.  “Do they like camping? Do they drive cars? Do they like children?” she queried. Do they breath oxygen, do they walk upright, do they have opposable thumbs? The list could have gone on. 
Although I liked a comment made by both teams, ‘I like the product, but I really like the margins!’, I disliked the naivety and blinkered vision that came across from not just Susie, but a couple of the others. It did nothing to enhance either the image of Londoners being somewhat insular and ‘universe-centric’, especially with Melody’s comment; “it’s not a car boot sale, we’re not up north’. In fact, it did nothing to convince anyone watching that we are truly nothing more than an island race with delusions of adequacy at times.
But let’s pretend for a moment we are in fact Europhiles and under the instruction of Lord Alain d’Sucre, the teams made their choices. Now let’s stop and review how they made these choices. 
I think everyone could see that the kiddie seat was a winner. There are lots of kids, lots of cars and legally they have to be in a booster seat – and this one has another use and can move with the kid from car to car while serving as a funky back pack – put reins on it and it’s every parents’ ‘must-have accessory’ (can you tell I have two under two?)
But despite Tom’s first choice, as team leader of Logic and with his baby sector experience, being said seat, he lost the plot and caved in to the rather biased ‘market research’ carried out by the overpowering Melody.  On arrival at a TRAIN STATION in France she failed to find anyone who drove cars around Paris – funny that. The next day, however, while stuck in the world famous traffic congestion of Paris she was heard to utter the words “where did all these cars come from?” Doh! 
Her subterranean, Metro based research was driven by some rather leading questioning as well as some very woolly, selectively interpreted answers that suited her own gut feeling that she didn’t like a product she had never seen and wasn’t target market for – genius.
Tom’s team also included an unusually quiet Natalie and the always-charming-but-a-bit-goofy Leon. Together they invaded Paris with all the hope of the Dunkirk landings to sell their ‘classic’ teapot lights and edible cress postcards, and equipped with his Del Boy guide to speaking French, Tom did his best.
Venture’s ‘beyond stupid’ team leader Susie managed to capture the kiddie seat and a bendy universal gripper for cameras, mobile phones and MP3 players – a sexy little ‘must have’ (the gripper, not Susie). 
Both teams had a day to hit the appointments they’d managed to make the day before as well as ad-hoc opportunities they spotted while running around the city. They also has the BIG appointment Lord Alain had set up for them with La Redoute… doesn’t everyone know them? I certainly do as I worked on their account in my past life on customer acquisition and retention campaigns.  THEY ARE HUGE.
Although both teams made some sales at some of their sourced buyers and independent retailers, the events of that particular part of the task were mainly that Melody arranged the meetings for Logic, yet wanted to keep them all to herself – team game Melody, or is it? Whereas Jim, on team Venture, arranged the appointments then shared them out. 
Tom, as team leader, was a victim of sleight of hand, losing his preferred product to Melody’s ‘research’ and he also let her bully him out of the team’s appointments. In the sales opportunities Susie actually shone at moments but the chaps in both teams – Tom, James and Leon – did very poorly. Leon, as we now know, cannot speak French – ironic considering he has a French name.
On approaching the La Redoute meeting set up by Lord Alain we discovered, not surprisingly, that Tom’s team did no research whatsoever over the potential buyers and it showed – they offered them 10 tea pots, a storm in a tea cup to someone the size of La Redoute. 
And the decision on who was to pitch to this ‘unknown retailer’ was made by the classically accepted, business decision-making process known in the playground as ‘Scissors, Paper Stone’. Or as they say in France “Zut alors, you’re having a laugh”. To make matters worse, only later did we learn that Leon had actually worked for La Redoute in their call centres but it ‘slipped his mind’. Perhaps he had simply lost his mind!
Susie’s team, however, did have the not-so-secret-weapon of Helen whose pitch to La Redoute was perfect. She shone where Tom’s team failed. And unlike Tom’s pathetic efforts, Super Helen talked to the buyers as not only a customer of theirs, but also as someone who understood their audience and how to position the product, not to mention how well suited it was to the La Redoute product range.  To be fair, I think you could have simply drop-kicked the kiddie chair into the room of buyers and they would have seen that it was a winner but Helen did a hell of a job.
The end result of the team’s effort led to not so much a victory, but more an annihilation of Tom’s team who sold 11,705 Euros worth to the independents and unsurprisingly, nothing to La Redoute.
Susie’s team on the other hand, gained an order worth 214000 Euros from La Redoute thanks to Helen alone and also beat the other team on their independent sales. 
The real winner of the show? The manufacturer of the kiddie seat – I will be getting one delivered very soon no doubt, now that Mrs H has seen it.
So, just the recriminations and back-stabbing to take place now and back in the boardroom Tom, Melody and Leon came face-to-face with Lord Alain’s wrath. Yes, okay I know Melody was a lying, conniving, talkative, patronising, bull-dozing cow (can you be a bull and a cow?) throughout the task, but she can sell and her performance and style were only exaggerated by Natalie’s ‘say nothing’ tactics combined with the very poor performance and leadership shown by Leon and Tom respectively.
Personally, I think Tom should have left Melody outside as it was obvious she was up for a fight and had appointments and sales to back her up whereas Natalie did nothing. He didn’t need to worry though as Lord Sugar went with his gut feeling and kept Tom in the race. Leon, however, was totally ineffectual and like Bonny Tyler, he was Lost In France. It made it an easy decision for Lord Sugar to montré him la porte.
So what did we learn? 
Well, once again as in past episodes, we learnt that you should be very careful how you conduct your market research. Ask lots of people and ask them balanced questions. Then LISTEN to their answers.
It’s also
okay to admit that you are not target audience and that this doesn’t make it a bad product. I have an investment in body-building supplements but I’m not a body builder (hard to believe, I know, I’m just blessed with this physique).
We perhaps also learnt that to really commit to something you should go with your gut instinct – as Tom should have done with the kiddie car seat. 
We saw that English is still pretty much the business language of the world, possibly reluctantly and not for long and although it’s great to have a language (or six Melody), under your belt, you can still get away with just English. 
Again, the task demonstrated that when launching your business, it seems nothing beats face-to-face sales – would-be buyers want to see and feel the product in their hands and alongside their other items. 
It also showed me what great products are still being designed and produced in the UK and that is where we should focus our future on. We all want to see manufacturing rise again if we can ever truly compete. But let’s not ignore the fact that we nurture great design in this country across such a wide spectrum – from fashion and product design to architecture and mechanical design. 
And, last but not least, surely it demonstrated the need to think outside of this sceptre isle, this other Eden, this little world, this precious stone set in the silver sea, this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England…. you get the idea – GO GLOBAL people.