2006-05-20

Apprentice Week 12: The Outcast


This week on the Apprentice, not much happened. We saw the perils of out sourcing. We saw the perils of not truly considering your customer. I don't completely agree with Trump's firing this week, but he's not wrong. This close to the end, the firing decisions are tougher. Since the candidates are not usually making major errors, the reasons they lose and get fired are more subtle.

Before I go on, I'll let the children and those who don't want to know the results leave the room.
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The bickering and attitudes on Synergy hurt my head. Tammy, the Project Manager couldn't control Allie and Roxanne. Allie and Roxanne undermined Tammy at every turn. Tammy for her part was winy and self pity-ing. She let Allie and Roxanne get to her, and instead of taking a strong leadership roll and laying a heavy hand on the situation, she rolled up like a hedge hog.

Tablet of Contents
  1. Lessons Learned
  2. The Donald J Trump Watch Collection
  3. The Task
  4. Team Gold Rush
  5. Team Synergy
  6. The Executive Take
  7. The Boardroom
  8. Cross Merchandising


Lessons Learned
  • The boss needs to be the boss.
  • When you are told you have to do 3 things to win, do 3 things.
  • Effective merchandising is critical in retail.
  • Be careful about outsourcing -- have a backup plan.



The Donald J Trump Watch Collection

In case anyone forgets the show is all about Trump, we got to see the Trump watch collection this week. Not Trump's personal watches -- these are the Trump branded watches. They are the finest watches in the world. It was important to show the candidates this while telling them about their project, because the Trump watch display was a great example of beautiful merchandising. See? It was legitimate, and not just a shameless plug.

In his "candid" discussion with the Stephen, the Wal-Mart executive, and Jay, the Microsoft executive, Trump explained how pleased he was to be working with such great companies.

Jay suggested they should start work on a Donald Trump Edition Xb0x. "You like gold, right?" Trump said, "Let's go. And I only want 10%."

Did we just witness the birth of a new product and eBay phenomenon? Or just random market arrogance? And is there a difference between the two? And did Trump really ask Microsoft to Tithe?

By the way, the Trump website itself is an utterly mind boggling array of wealth/arrogance. Someday, that will be me.

The Task

Trump outlined the task for the frustrating five. They were to create an interactive Xbox 360 Display in a Wal-Mart location. Becaause most people haven't heard about the Xbox 360.

Jay and Stephen would be the sole judges of which team had the best display.


The task dossier had important details they did not air, like it does every week. The area had to "feature Wal-Mart merchandise, be built around the Microsoft Xbox 360 video game system, and be interactive."

There were also three criteria for judgment:

  1. Deliver a clear, compelling and approachable consumer area centered on the digital entertainment features of Xbox 360.
  2. Deliver a solution that can be replicated and scaled for other Wal-Mart stores.
  3. Feature other lifestyle and entertainment products that Wal-Mart sells in store.


Both teams had problems completing the task. Gold Rush had problems with a supplier, while Synergy just had trouble.

By the end of the project, though, it was clear that Gold Rush "got it."

Team Gold Rush

Sean and Lee are all that's left of Gold Rush. And I expect they will be the final two at the end of the season.

Sean was excited about the task and instantly wanted to be product manager. There is a great clip of Sean and Lee brainstorming on the Yahoo! Apprentice Site. Click Exclusive Videos Sean and Lee Think Big.

Sean was thrilled with how well he and Lee worked together. He attributed it in part to their contrasts, and talked about how Lee is 23, and he is 33. Lee is from Brooklyn. Sean is from London. Lee is Jewish. Sean is half Arab. And it all worked.

They got excited about creating a round space to highlight all the benefits of the X-Box 360. "It's a home entertainment experience. Watch movies. Play Music. Go through family photos. It's more than a great gaming console."

Sean had the vision and the enthusiasm for the product. He genuinely seemed to love the Xbox 360. To bring that vision to fruition, he called signage companies to design, build, and install the area. As Lee excitedly put it, "We outsourced everything."

While Sean had the big vision, it appears Lee had the details under control. There is no evidence of this from the tape, but I get the impression Lee was the one who implemented a lot of the merchandising elements.

For the concept, they started with a floor featuring an Xbox graphic, a wall made of vinyl that circled the space, and a roof to hang the vinyl wall from and cover the experience. They setup Xbox stations on the inside perimeter with each station focusing on a different Xbox 360 activities -- games, music, photos, movies, etc.



Then they filled the space with related products. In the photo section, they included digital cameras from Wal-Mart, with appropriate price tags and signage. In the music section, they included MP3 players.

This level of detailed saved them.

The big problem they had was the outsourcing. The company that was supposed to build the floor and roof dropped the ball and delivered the floor 7 hours late. That delayed the entire project. Adrien, the signage guy never made it back on time with the roof. And it almost cost Gold Rush the win.

Lee and Sean worked with Adrien and leaned on him to meet his obligations, but he failed. He apparently over promised and under delivered. That is always a crucial mistake in business. It would be interesting to know what impact his Apprentice debacle on national TV will affect his business.

What the conspiracy theorists will say: Adrien didn't screw up. The producers told him not to deliver the graphics on time. They wanted to create more drama and hurdles for Sean and Lee and were concerned they were beating Synergy too easily. It's one more example of how all "reality" programs are fixed.

With about 30 minutes to go, and behind schedule, Sean punted on the roof, assuming it wasn't going to come. Unfortunately the vinyl wall was designed to attach to and hang from the roof. Without the roof, they had to improvise. They used duct tape and clamps to hold the wall up, and it looked terrible. Unfortunately, they didn't have much choice so they made the best of a bad situation.

Team Synergy

Tammy took the project manager roll and Synergy. And I knew they were in trouble early on. How did I know this? Easy.

They played silly music.

When they play silly music as the background for team activities, the team is probably not doing so well.

Junior High School Issues

The biggest problem was the team dynamics. I have written before about Allie and Roxanne. They are like Batman and Robin, if Batman and Robin were Junior High School girls. They clearly despised Tammy, and though they wouldn't say it, it was clear early on they were out to get here. Losing the task would be a good way to do it.

I don't know that they consciously tried to lose the task, but they certainly did not go above and beyond to win. They barely showed up.

This dynamic should have been no surprise to Tammy. Taking the Project Manager roll was a big mistake. Losing project managers are more likely to get fired than individual contributors on the team. By taking the leadership roll, she made herself an easy target for the peasants to attack. And they did. With vigor.

If Allie or Roxanne were PM, they would have worked for the win. If they lost, they still would have attacked Tammy, but she would have been in a stronger position by not being in the PM hot seat.

When Bill Rancic came by to check on their progress, team strife was also evident.

While they were picking up items in the store, Bill asked Tammy about the project, Allie rolled her eyes. The rest of her nonverbals clearly conveyed her disgust.

Allie and Roxanne never had any respect for Tammy. And Tammy still tried to please them. While they were looking for parts for their display, they went to the mirror section.

Tammy asked, "You guys, what do you think of putting a bunch of mirrors up to make the place look bigger? 'Cause I like 'em. But if you don't...

Roxanne responded, "Put it on your maybe list, and maybe if you're good, Santa will get it for you."
Now, it's important to seek input from your team, but that didn't seem to be what Tammy was doing. She wasn't soliciting an opinion; she was seeking their approval, from a position of weakness. That's no way to lead a team.

Roxanne's response was totally inappropriate. The derisive mocking of the boss in that manner was unacceptable.

Later on during the night, while they are trying to put together the display, and Allie and Roxanne appeared to be doing little work, Tammy, in an exasperated tone asks, "What would you guys like to do?"

"Why are you talking like that?" retorted Allie.

"I'm just really frustrated with everyone right now. I don't feel like you guys are respecting me, and I just feel like I'm not getting full support," whined Tammy.

"That's so unfair," said Roxanne.

"I know it sounds selfish, but I want it to be about me for a change," said Tammy.

At this point, I want them all fired.



Task Issues

As for the task, Tammy came up with the idea of a red carpet event to celebrate the award winning Xbox 360 in all its different rolls. Allie and Roxanne did not like the idea, but they offered no other suggestions. Since all they offered was negative criticism, Tammy announced they were going forward with the award show concept.

Tammy asked Roxanne to take care of the signage. "You can be the graphics girl." That probably wasn't the best way to put it.

Later on, when Tammy asked when the signage would be there. Roxanne had no idea, and Tammy let it drop.

Tammy knew signage was important. "All you see in Wal-Mart is signs. Your sign has to be big and grab attention."

Roxanne's signage was, apparently, not very good. The banner was small. According to Tammy, "Roxanne could not execute signage. Our sign was small and minimalist. I think it was an absolute disaster."

In a separate individual interview, Roxanne said, "Our sign may have been too small for Wal-Mart, but ultimately I got the damn sign delivered."

Their area actually turned out fairly nice, although Tammy did most of the work. They enclosed the area with black curtains, and covered the floor with a red carpet. The ringed it with touch lights, and had a red carpet lead into the area.

They set up the Xbox 360s, TVs and other equipment in the center of the room, and included comfortable chairs around it. It was a comfortable space for playing games, watching movies, and looking at digital photos. There was very little signage.

In other words, they created a lounge, rather than a product showcase.

The Executive Take

The executives inspected the two areas, took pictures, and asked questions. Finally, it was time for their judgment.

Jay from Microsoft had some positive things to say about Synergy's space:

"I loved it. Their execution was actually pretty tight. The problem is that this is where I'm going to rest when my feet are tired at Wal-Mart. "
Stephen from Wal-Mart observed there was no navigation and no price points.

On Gold Rush, Jay said, "It was clearly rushed and clearly unfinished."

Stephen said, "But I though that they created an environment that was very retail friendly. They also had price points. They had a range of different products. So I could buy my Xbox 360, pick up an MP3 Player, and go straight to the cash register. So I though it worked." Jay completely agreed.


There were three criteria the executives would use to evaluate the winners. Synergy hit the first two, but missed the third. Gold Rush hit all three

And Gold Rush walked away with a big win. Lee and Sean made it to the final four.



The Boardroom

As expected, Allie and Roxanne went after Tammy hard. But it was an ugly boardroom for all of them.

While Tammy defended herself, Allie started making faces. Ivanca, sitting in for Carolyn this week, called her on it.

"Allie, you're rolling your eyes a lot, but you haven't said anything. So if you
have something to say, now would be a good time to speak up."

"I'm not rolling my eyes. I'm shaking my head."

"You're shaking your head and rolling your eyes."

At this point, Bill stepped in, "You did it while Tammy was explaining the concept [in the store] and it rubbed me the wrong way."



The boardroom went on like that. At some point someone suggested that Tammy shouldn't take Allie and Roxanne's behavior personally. Trump disagreed.

"I take everything personally," said Trump. "If someone says something about me, I hate them for the rest of my life."

Trump really did not like the Synergy set up. "It looked like a cheap liquor lounge."

In the end, Trump fired Tammy because, as he put it: "Your leadership wasn't good and your design stunk. I thought it was terrible."

I would have preferred him to fire Roxanne or Allie because of their toxic attitudes, meanness, and lies about calling Tammy a "friend." Tammy was just a weak leader who didn't understand retail. But I prefer to see mean people smacked down before weak people. Regardless, none of them are Apprentice material and I can't really fault Trump for his decision on this one.

Cross Merchandising

Merchandising a retail store means deciding where to put products, how to sign them, and how best to display them. The purpose is to make it as easy as possible to sell stuff.

Cross Merchandising is putting related products together, even though they may be from different categories.

For example, a grocery store may display canned tuna at the end of an aisle. They merchandise it there to increase sales (actually the tuna company probably paid the store to put their product on that end cap). Effective cross merchandising would be to also display bread, mayonnaise, Tuna Helper, or similar products there. This way, not only can you buy the tuna, you can also easily buy the other products to make a nice sandwich. This way the store picks up extra sales they might otherwise not get.

In computer stores, this is why you'll see notebook bags displayed near notebooks, and cables and ink displayed near printers.

This was the winning strategy for Gold Rush. They took the Xbox 360 and showed all of its capabilities. That's the same thing Synergy did. But then, Gold Rush took it a step further. They used the Xbox 360 to sell cameras, MP3 players, and other products.

Increasing accessory sales and selling more items to each customer is a major goal for most retailers. Gold Rush understood this and executed on that. That's why they won.

1 comment:

Web2earn said...

Hello and thanks for the opportunity to post on your blog.

I believe call center and answering service outsourcing is the way to go for many US-based companies who want to cut down running costs and thus increase their overall profits. However, one of the main issues that needs to be dealt with is that of staff training. There are a lot of professional answering service training courses that are destined to be attended by the answering service agents in order for these people to be more efficient and to be more specialized in their jobs. Answering service centers are often providing a whole range of external services, such as: call center services, contact center and help desk services.

In case you wish to read more about this I invite you to read my study on outsourcing call center services

Warm regards,

Michael Rad