The Apprentice – Week three: Flat packs and brain whacks

After last week’s episode two which involved creating a new flavoured beer –  a task won by Team Endeavour, their second win in a row – the pressure was on for Team Evolve to pull out all the stops (corks?) to impress Lord Sugar. But would they succeed in sweetening him this time?

Addressing the teams at the historic home of the Design Council in Islington, North London, Sugar gives them their brief: to come up with an innovative flat pack piece of furniture.

Team Evolve get quickly to business in the only way they know how. Headed up by Recruitment Manager Natalie Panayi, who has volunteered to be project manager, the initial brainstorming session resembles a cackle of hissing geese at a farmyard meeting rather than the productive discussion it should have been.

Meanwhile, Team Endeavour and project manager Jordan Poulton quickly discover its shining star of the week in Alex Mills AKA Dracula, who conjures an innovative design that everyone likes immediately. Dracula designs a chair that can be folded down into a compact side table. Ideal for an unexpected guest or for when you suddenly find yourself needing a bit of extra table space to put that cheeky glass of vino.

Back with Team Evolve and they’re squabbling over a box-cube idea. Is it a bird? A plane? No, it’s a box. A multi-functional box. You know, a box.

Unpopular can-I-say-something Rebecca Slater is one of the few women to express initial reserve about the design, but no one listens. After several more ‘can I say something?’ remarks, she gives up, muttering darkly.  Even when the newly-appointed Market Research team including Rebecca and restaurateur Sophie Lau report back that the idea has been scoffed at and they’ve been advised make it into something more functional (‘something to get your feet under, you know, like a desk’), project manager Natalie chooses not to listen. Could this be their third huge mistake of the series?

And once more it’s becoming apparent that Team Endeavour are taking the lead, and that’s even before they’ve made any sales, let alone created the prototype. The product – Foldo – is an instant hit with both the team and market research experts, and it’s decided that to add a bit of luxury to the product, it should be upholstered, even though it’s a decision that’s not 100% agreed on. Nevertheless, the lads quickly settle on some light green fabric for the job, and the design and various materials are sent off for the night to be turned into their first prototype. Team Evolve meanwhile, are still arguing over their computer aided design.

Just in time, they manage to get their collective acts together to source various materials from a local DIY store, including a last minute decision to find a cushion to go with their in-genius box thing. It’s so last minute in fact, that when their own prototype, the Tidy Sidy arrives the next morning, an off-grey unsightly wheeled box – the chosen cushion isn’t the right fit. The solution? To fall on the offending item, tearing out huge gobbets of stuffing. Because that will definitely improve things.

Team Endeavour’s Foldo on the other hand is the complete antithesis of the Tidy Sidy. It’s stylish, slick, functional and very contemporary. The lads are delighted. Lord Sugar’s aides are delighted. Even I’m delighted. So whilst the lads are preparing for their ‘sales orgasm’ from adoring retailers (‘when they’ve said three yes’s, you know they like the product’), the women have a tough job ahead of them.

Perhaps it’s testament to the skills of Francesca MacDuff-Varley, a dance and entertainment entrepreneur and the others who were selling that week that Team Evolve manage to sell any units at all. They make several good pitches and they do manage to bag several sales, but is their Tidy Slidy going to max the genius of the Foldo?

“We like the function, but in design terms, it would only be worth it in a part of the house where you couldn’t see it,” says one retailer. Praise indeed.

Back at the boardroom 24 hours later, the teams are ready to face Lord Sugar’s wrath. He’s visibly delighted with the Foldo, describing it as ‘one of the best products’ he’s seen in all the years he’s been in the boardroom.  So while it comes as no surprise to anyone that the Team Endeavour are once again the winners of the week, there is a stunned silence from both teams when it’s announced that one of the major retailers liked the Foldo so much they put in an order for two and half thousand of them. Team Evolve barely scraped through with an embarrassing 174 units sold in total.

Lord Sugar does not mince his words. “It’s like going to war with a pea shooter,” he tells the losing team. “Your Tidy Sidy Wishy Washy Poxy Boxy looks like something from 1970s Eastern Germany.”

But in the end, it’s Restaurateur Sophie Lau he sends packing, perhaps a bit unfairly. Sophie, who had been part of the market researcher team, had nothing to do with the design or the pitches but was, he felt, hiding behind her role rather than taking responsibility for her part in the product’s failings.  Even so, it’s a surprising choice.

“I’m glad I kept my dignity though,” she muses during the homeward-bound taxi ride of shame.

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