The Apprentice: the French connection

By: Rachel Miller

Date: 23 June 2011

Missed the eighth episode? Catch up here.

The task

It’s the overseas trip. The call comes in telling them to pack an overnight bag and meet at St Pancras International station. The candidates are excited at the prospect of going to Paris. Meanwhile, the viewers are looking forward to an episode full of dodgy accents and cultural misunderstandings. They won’t be disappointed.

The teams have to sell two British products to retailers in Paris. They are shown ten items, several of which are “transformers” — in other words they are innovative because they do this and they do that. So, there’s a child’s beanbag sofa that turns into a bed, a pop-up postcard that turns into a box of cress, a child’s booster car seat that becomes a rucksack and a bone china teapot that thinks it’s a light.

Ta-da! Is this what passes for innovation nowadays?

Each team has to select two products and take them to Paris where they will pitch to retailing giant, La Redoute and also set up their own appointments with other retailers.

This is how it all shakes down:

On Venture, Helen, Jim, Zoe and leader Susie select the booster seat and a universal gripper device for mobile phones.

On Logic, Melody, Leon, Natasha and leader Tom select the pop-up postcard and the teapot light.

The best bits

This week is all about strong women — Melody and Helen. Both stand out but for very different reasons.

Melody is incredibly aggressive. She know that individuals are going to be judged on their sales performances and once she has set up eight appointments for her team, she refuses to let anyone else do the pitches — and tells team leader Tom that he can make his own appointments. Eventually, she grudgingly gives Tom one of her appointments — probably because she hasn’t got time to do them all herself.

But while she’s strong, she’s also very wrong. Firstly, it’s her that persuades Tom not to take the booster seat — the product that goes on to win a massive order. And she fails to do her homework on La Redoute — despite being asked to do just that — which leaves the team floundering at the pitch.

Helen, meanwhile, does do her homework and she is a complete tour de force at the La Redoute pitch — articulate, persuasive, charming.

The worst bits

All these weeks, I’ve been wondering if Little Susie had hidden depths. This week the answer comes across loud and clear. Here are just a few of her witless remarks:

“Are the French very fond of their children?”

“Do a lot of people drive in France?”

“I honestly know nothing about the French and their culture.”

You don’t say. As Karren Brady says, “That really is beyond stupid.”

The winners and losers

The winning team is Venture. Led by Susie, she is totally eclipsed by Helen who outshines everyone with her assured pitch to La Redoute — bringing in an order for a staggering €214,000.

The losing team is Logic. Tom’s in charge, supposedly, but he is totally bulldozed by Melody who has clearly chosen this week to make a play for the limelight.

Despite Melody’s mistakes, her approach impresses Lord Sugar. You can tell he’s got a soft spot for her when he says: “She is ruthless. She’ll walk over and tread over anybody. She’ll eat them up and spit them out for breakfast. That’s what I like about her really.”

So Lord Sugar has to choose between Tom and Leon — both of whom, it is agreed, need to man up. Tom has failed to assert himself and Leon has excused himself from the task completely — on the grounds that he doesn’t speak French.

After an impassioned speech from Tom about his real-life business success, Leon gets the finger, so to speak.

The ones to watch

Helen is surely the front-runner now. Melody will undoubtedly continue to take no prisoners. The question is, will Tom toughen up? One thing’s for sure, Little Susie’s days are definitely numbered.

Business lesson

  1. Do your research before any pitch — know the company, their products, the market they’re in and also work out your own numbers beforehand. If you don’t, you not only look stupid, but you are actually insulting the people that have given up their valuable time to meet you.

Quote of the week

Leon: “I can’t be selling cress all day so I’m going to sell the teapot.”

(Do you think you might have chosen the wrong products Leon?)

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.

Profitometer

This week Lord Sugar made orders of £240,404