Apprentice 2013, Episode 7: Hitting the Road

It’s Neil’s turn to get his tats out on this week’s episode of The Apprentice as the phone call comes in at 6am. They’re off to the Tower of London – sadly as tourists rather than prisoners – and have to take an overnight bag. Jason, ever practical, packs his enormous teddy bear. Jordan reminds Alex that Welshmen can be legally killed at the Tower at 9am. I silently want to recommend a challenge set in Chester, where crossbows can still be legally used against the Welsh pretty much anytime. Ah, the joy of bylaws.

The task is holidays or recreation. Or, more precisely, caravanning. So no, Fran, not diamonds, but an optimistic guess. Better luck next week. It’s “completely a selling task” (well, there’s a novelty), and Jason is warned not to scrub carrots in a mobile kitchen to hide from the challenge. Neil is moved to Evolve (a capital letter has rarely seemed so important), and ravens caw with exquisite symbolism as the two teams pick leaders.

For Endeavour, Myles demurs on the grounds that caravans are banned in Monaco. And he hates them. Oh dear. In an unexpected outbreak of reverse bragging, Kurt mentions his history of caravan holidays and gets the vote over Alex. You can take the boy out of Liverpool …

Neil takes on PM for Evolve, and Jason boldly plants his flag for selling, while Karren mentions yet again that there’ll be no place for hiding. Even with Teddy. The poor man has never even been to Birmingham, let alone in a caravan: forget hiding, Jason – run away now while the going is good.

En route to the Costa del Brum, Alex and Kurt play spot the age of caravan drivers on the motorway: we can safely say ‘not young’. This presumably constitutes their market research, as this gathered wisdom will shortly be ignored – to their detriment. A classic Apprentice trope, getting another airing.

And so on to product selection. Jordan, Luisa and Fran sneer at a cheap tent and a folding chair with a roof but are wowed by an electric bike and roofbox-cum-boat contraption (essentially an inverted dinghy with a lid). Evidence of market intelligence is thin on the ground, and Fran chews her pen. For Kurt’s team, Natalie dismisses the boat as an empty bit of plastic with two oars, but … ‘Oh, it’s got a wheel’. Possibly cool after all then. A kids’ camping adventure box wins Myles’ attention, as his daughter would love it. (He may not know caravanning, but at least he has a family to guide him. Their opinion on Daddy’s foray into televisual entertainment would be interesting to hear.)

The pitching to vendors goes as well as might be expected. Myles overdoes the enthusiasm to the point where you want to pass round the handwipes, while Fran pouts and Nat looks blank. Nick H feels nauseated, as well he might. Fran undercuts the charm by trying too hard to talk down the price on two products. For the competition, Luisa’s pitching is better aimed and less dangerous to stomach linings, and they demonstrate a plausible level of interest and charm. But when it comes to closing the deals, both teams go for the camping box and the electric bike. Neil’s team is preferred by both vendors, and Kurt’s team must pick again.

Meanwhile the PMs hunt high-end product. Kurt – accompanied by Alex – fall into the trap of being too cool for their surroundings. An uber-stylish retro-camper catches everyone’s eye, but Neil identifies a demographic mismatch and that the seller is short against his targets. Neil – accompanied to his regret by Jason – who he calls a big girls blouse and the weakest team member, hopefully only to the cameraman – try to avoid coming to blows. Rejecting a very cute mini-Airstream, they select a folding tent-caravan affair that is selling substantially better than the superficially more covetable camper. But Kurt and Alex are magnetically drawn to the retro van, despite gathering the target age range is a poor match to the show. Kurt persuades himself this is an exciting high risk strategy. Heads play hearts … and heads will almost certainly win hands down.

On the day, Neil sets sales targets and makes it a competition between them. Luisa does her best with electric bikes, although the punters wonder where the exercise is. She later wins through and makes a sale, however, which baffles Jordan. But these are, as Karren points out, not impulse buys. Meanwhile, Jason’s idiosyncratic approach is, possibly to Lord Sugar’s surprise, wowing people: the target audience loves him. (I think Karren may have a soft spot too.) And kerching, he makes the first sale. And Neil takes that surprisingly well. Thankfully for his ego, he later catches up.

Kurt takes Myles to sell retro campers, disjointing Alex’s nose by referencing Myles’ maturity and greater experience of selling expensive items. Leah, Nat and Alex proceed to give folding chairs a hard sell, but Alex scores first with a boat. Just as well, as Nat and Leah – who possibly don’t row very often – think the bench is a table. Over at the retro-campers, Myles’ charm ladle is in full swing, but he spends a lot of time chatting – very nicely, of course – to people who aren’t interested in buying. And gets a black mark from Nick H. And as Myles later realises, the visitors think their children would love the retro-camper – but they don’t. Kurt’s rather casual approach isn’t helping the side either. In desperation, he calls over Leah – as ‘eye-candy’. Sadly, he actually uses that exact term. On camera. Natalie is as charmed as any woman might be by that decision. Before the boardroom, it’s already clearly a win for Neil, unless Evolve have sold £30K of accessories. But how bad will it be?

In the boardroom, Lord Sugar briefs that high-ticket items are a hard sell and were therefore a key part of the challenge. Before wondering why Alex has yet to put himself up as PM, and suggesting a lack of maturity may be at play. Lord S is clearly in feather-ruffling mood.

For Evolve, Myles is clear that Nat and Leah let him down in the product negotiations. Nick confirms the vendor’s displeasure at Leah’s haggling technique. Kurt’s choice of retro-camper also raises eyebrows, along with his choice of locations for team members during the day. All is more than a little unharmonious: the brownie point goes to Myles for realising the task will be won or lost on Kurt’s choice of high-ticket item – although that use of the future tense suggests either mad optimism or sneaky film editing.

For Endeavour, Neil’s targeted approach is outlined, although targets were far from met. The clincher is the high-ticket item, which Neil chose on the sales it had already achieved. Knowing the outcome already, the panel jest with Jason about his selling prowess, and he smilingly demurs. Charm is Jason’s key weapon, and he seems self-aware enough to realise it. Fran and Jordan’s contributions are near invisible, but they will be saved for now.

When it comes to the numbers, Evolve have sold £3,116 of accessories and three folding caravans, giving them a grand total of £33,615. Endeavour sold £1,479 worth of accessories – and nothing else.

The winners go to Manchester velodrome to cycle with Sir Chris Hoy, where they will have to pedal rather than peddle. And Jason is called back into the boardroom and congratulated on his sale. And his ability to learn from the process. Not an accolade that is extended to the losers.

In the losers’ caff, the knives are out. Alex and Nat are taking it particularly badly. As they progress to the boardroom, it’s obvious that Kurt’s big risk has backfired, and he admits it was the wrong product – and that he already knew the sales figures. As Karren points out, he needed to go with the facts and not his gut. Alex similarly confuses his own opinion with successful product selection, and Myles failure to qualify leads is also flagged. But the choice of product would, perhaps, have defeated anyone. Nick H then drops the ‘eye-candy’ quote-bomb, and Kurt might as well phone his own cab. Natalie then raises her voice in self-defence, making a tactical error in the process. Kurt brings back Alex and Natalie: another ‘tactical’ move that is promptly questioned.

The panel chat shows how poorly Kurt has defended himself, while Alex is assumed to have hidden among accessories as he could spot trouble brewing. (Not so foolish an idea, surely?) Natalie’s reappearance in the boardroom is also seen as a suspicious move.

As the final three return, Alex challenges his placement during selling, which Kurt defends as his chance to show that he can sell. Which, of course, he completely failed to do. Natalie’s ability to deliver (or otherwise) undermines her scattergun self-defence, although it has more passion than Kurt’s. Actually, bollards have more passion than Kurt’s self-defence, and are typically sturdier too. Only Alex mounts any kind of plausible explanation of why he should remain, although his lack of discrimination in product choice is his first black mark, tagging him as young and irresponsible.

Kurt is, to no-one’s surprise (including his own), fired. Natalie, having run out of chances, sees an upward tick in the local taxi fare market and joins him on the lonely journey home.

The team were, if anything, lucky that only two of them were fired. The question is who will make the final with Neil, who currently seems unstoppable. But then their next challenge is to promote an online dating site, and Mr Clough may need to show a little more romance under the stubble. The teaser trailer hints that the course of true love – and of flogging some grim approximation of it in a browser – will not run smoothly.

Pucker up, everyone.


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