Young Apprentice: bargain hunt

By: Rachel Miller

Date: 30 November 2011

This week it’s the buying task. It’s something so simple, calling for fundamental business skills, and yet apprentice candidates seem to botch it every time. This lot are no exception.

The brief

Lord Sugar gathers the remaining seven candidates at Madame Tussauds where they hob nob with wax versions of Robbie Williams and Nelson Mandela.

The teams need to find ten items — accessories for the waxwork displays — and negotiate the best possible price for them. They’ve got to look the part but not cost the earth.

Lord Sugar shuffles the teams but leaves it up to them to pick their project manager. This is the result:

Lizzie is in charge of Harry M, Zara and Hayley.

Haya leads Harry H and James.

And the ten items? A small suit to fit little Justin Bieber; 100 helium-filled balloons; a left-handed guitar, a pocket watch, size ten red stilletoes, 40 metres of red carpet; a Dashiki; a bar stool; a moustache comb and a vanity case.

Problems with planning

You can’t just wander around London and expect to trip over these items. So forward planning is essential. But Lord S has banned the internet. So the teams have to use something called the Yellow Pages.

Lizzie and her team let their fingers do the walking and start hitting the phones. But Haya doesn’t believe in planning. She immediately sends poor Harry H off to pound the streets of Shepherds Bush while she takes James to Portobello market. The strategy seems to be to wander around until one of the items pops up and says boo.

The fact that Harry H does happen to stumble across a bar stool is beside the point. What they should have done is called around and done some proper research.

Problems with pricing

Lack of research means the candidates aren’t really sure what the going rate for any of this stuff is. A few more phone calls could have done the trick here.

Another clever move would have been to find an area that is known for selling these sorts of items at reasonable prices.

Haya and James get this right when they visit London’s tin-pan alley for musical instruments. Being able to shop around in one street makes the negotiation process a good deal easier.

Showing us how not to do it is Harry  M who suggests up-market Jermyn Street for the Justin Bieber suit. He seems to have forgotten that these items are essentially costumes — they have to look good, not cost the earth.

Problems with logistics

This task calls for some basic map-reading. Clearly, when time is tight, you’ll want to spend as little time travelling as possible. So why on earth are Hayley and Zara going to Croydon of all places to buy an extremely expensive gold pocket watch? And in a taxi. At least a train from Victoria would have taken them about 20 minutes instead of the two hours they spend in traffic getting there.

Problems with negotiation

You need to be in a position of strength when you’re negotiating. But too many times, the candidates see this task as a treasure hunt and not a negotiation process. Simply finding the item is cause for celebration. And the sales people they encounter can spot this a mile off — putting them in the driving seat.

The winners and losers

Despite the lack of planning, Haya’s team of three do well, sourcing seven items and spending a total of £969.10 including penalties for the items they missed. Lizzie’s team of four only managed to buy six items and with penalties, they spend a whopping £1,480.87.

Lizzie brings Hayley and Zara back with her into the boardroom and the accusations fly. Hayley and Zara’s day trip to Croydon has to be the biggest mistake of the day. In the end it’s quiet Hayley who takes the bullet.

Next week: Popcorn.

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