A Wall of Books Part 03: Village Books

Bellingham, WA, about 90 miles north of Seattle frequently appears on lists of the Best Places to Live. It's not a big town, and it is home to the reasonable large Western Washington University. It's colder in the winter and warmer in the summer than Seattle, and has a wealth of outdoor activities readily available.

My favorite stop in town is the combination of Village Books and the Colophon Cafe. When I walked into Village Books today, I was disappointed. Half of it was missing. Actually, most of it was missing. The upstairs part of the cafe was still there, but the rest of it had turned into a stuff store. There were kitchen supplies, bags, soaps, and other girlie things. My book store was gone.

But I continued downstairs. At least that part had to still be there. At the bottom of the stairs, I looked to the left, expecting to see the gardening and cooking section. Instead, I saw jaw breakers and Bit o Honey by the pound. They turned it into a candy store. And it appeared to be independent as well. I seethed over the destruction of my book store, but was hungry so I asked for a table in the cafe anyway. The tall waitress handed me the pager and I wandered around for a bit.

It was then I discovered they hadn't eliminated my book store. The simply moved it 30 feet to the right. They went through another wall and expanded it. The new sections were, well newer with more space. Upstairs, my feet echoed on the new snap-together hardwood floor as I roamed the aisles. I felt a little silly for worrying.

Back downstairs in the Colophon Cafe, lunch was wonderful as always. I had a Ham and Havarti sandwich that was 90% sprouts and a cup of African Peanut Soup. The short waitress was our server, and was just as pleasant (despite slooow service) as I've come to expect at the Colophon.

So my book store is still there -- better than ever. If this was the first time I'd been there, I would be raving about it. But even though it has more space, sells more stuff, and I no longer knock stuff off the shelves wandering around, I'm still slightly disappointed. I've been coming here for 9 years, and I know it's unrealistic to expect no change, but still. I still kind of miss the old place. It may not have been better, but it's what I knew.

But, like all else, I'll get used to it; the nostalgia will wear off, and I'll go about obnoxiously raving about Village Books like I do with most things I like.


More Shatner

I don't even know what this is.


Let Slip the Dogs of War


Roman History.

Rap Music.

William Shatner.

What's not to love?

The link.

Apprentice Week 09: Blood on the Walls

For the first time this season, Trump got it wrong. He made a mistake with the person he chose to fire.

That will happen more often as we careen towards the finale. There are now just eight candidates left, and some of them are quite strong. Theoretically, the remaining candidates should make few mistakes. They will also start to play more strategically, trying to walk that fine line between wanting to win the task, wanting the win the whole enchilada, and wanting to get rid of the weak players.

By the way, if you want to see a Blog that is the complete opposite of mine in terms of style, check our Trump’s Blog on NBC.

As always, spoilers ahead.
Gold Rush (finally) defeated Synergy by almost 2 to 1. Lee led his team to victory for the first time in 5 weeks.

So this week, Trump fired Andrea from Synergy. He should have fired Allie. Allie made critical errors, but she did one thing well – she got along with her team.

Trump introduced the task by bring the candidates to the Trump International Hotel and Tower and began drawing comparisons between the luxury hotel and Ellis Island, as representative of the same dream. I’m still unclear how the Trump International Hotel handles guests with TB, however.

Table of Contents
  1. Lessons Learned
  2. The Task
  3. Team Gold Rush
  4. Team Synergy
  5. The Boardroom
  6. Why Trump is Wrong
  7. Ties on T-Shirts
  8. Hair
  9. Lee
  10. Attacks on Tivo

Lessons Learned

    • Be on time. Sometimes when you miss the boat, you really miss the boat.
    • Get an early start. Success at sales sometimes means talking to the customer before anyone else has a chance.
    • Depersonalize conflict. Don’t get flustered when people attack. The times you most want to get angry are the times you can least afford it.
    • Don’t give up. When an attack comes, be prepared to counter attack. Have a core message and always come back to it.

    The Task

    The teams had to create a commemorative brochure for Ellis Island, and then sell it. They were to take their own pictures and write their own copy. The team that generated the most revenue would win. For details, see the official Task Dossier.

    By the time the dust settled, Gold Rush had sales of $1,548.68 while Synergy had sales of just $848.40 worth.

    Gold Rush

    Lee, who has been in the final board room each of the last three times there has been one, led Gold Rush.

    He demonstrated a hands off management style. Tarek and Michael said they had expertise in photography and writing, and Lee had confidence in them. He sent them off to Ellis Island to do the research and collect the content.

    Meanwhile, Charmaine said she was good with inside sales. Lee stayed in the suite with her to look for bulk sales opportunities. He fed the leads to Charmaine, and she made the calls.

    I am no fan of Charmaine. She is generally a weak player and usually survives because project managers have made poor board room choices in the past. But I have to give her credit. She took those leads and worked the phone. She spent the day making hundreds of cold calls to people she didn’t know trying to sell large bundles of a souvenir brochure that didn’t exist.

    Cold calls are hard.

    She only got one sale out of the effort, though, and that was the next day. She sold 100 brochures to a customer for .85 each.

    It’s fortunate she wasn’t successful. Each team had 750 brochures to sell. Had she successfully sold all 750 brochures for even the higher price of $1 each, the team would have lost to Synergy. In the end, it was Gold Rush’s retail efforts that put them over the top.

    Lee did have the fear of loss. He knew he was at war with Synergy. He says, “I’ll do anything to win.”

    That anything included getting his team up at dawn on the sales day to go sell brochures. He knew there would be a long line of people waiting to get on the boat for Ellis Island, and this captive audience was his primary customer base. When Gold Rush got there, they had huge lines all to themselves and began selling brochures while it seemed Synergy was still in bed.

    Charmaine did not approve of Lee’s leadership style. In fact, she was resentful of the win. She felt Lee didn’t do anything on the task. She felt he let Tarek take the reigns of the brochure and that the creative vision was his.

    But Lee had final say. And Lee made the correct delegation decisions. So Lee walked away with his second win as project manager (the first was the Gillette task).

    Team Synergy

    Allie, the project manager of Synergy took a different, hands on approach. She took the whole team over to Ellis Island to explore. They took the official tour, while Tammy took detailed notes.

    Andrea, helpful as always, quickly complained that the tour was a waste of time. She demanded Allie disclose the entire plan and split up tasks. That makes sense, since she claims in this episode to be an operations specialist.

    She also claimed in the past that she is an expert graphics designer. She claims that early on in this task, too, though she later disavows that in the boardroom.

    Based on her early claims, however, Allie put Andrea in charge of the look of the brochure. That was a bad idea, especially since Andrea’s poor graphics skills were the main reason Synergy lost the Grape Nuts competition several weeks ago.

    Tammy also made a major mistake on this task. Those detailed and critical notes she took on the tour? She left them on the island.

    Tammy and Allie jumped off the boat to go collect them, and, of course, the boat left Ellis Island with out them. They had to wait 2 hours for the next one.

    This was Tammy’s mistake, and it was a big one. But why did Allie get off the boat, too? She easily could have sent Sean or Roxanne with Tammy to look for the notes, and gone back to Manhattan with Andrea to make sure the brochure came out right.

    Instead, she was stuck on Ellis Island.

    When she got back to the City, Andrea already had the brochure well under way, and it did not look good. Allie made some suggestions, Andrea got mad, and left.

    The next day, they got to Battery Park – to that great captive audience – only to find out that Gold Rush beat the to it. They tried selling brochures, but most of the people who would have bought one, had already purchased one from Gold Rush. Allie, and Synergy, were too late.

    The decamped to Ellis Island at Roxanne’s suggestion and tried selling at the attraction, and they did a little better, but they still encountered Gold Rush’s customers. Towards the end of the day, Andrea suggested bulk sales, and claimed an expertise in the field. Unfortunately, there was no time to switch strategies.

    The Boardroom

    Allie did a much better job of preparing for the board room. She determined that Andrea was the reason they lost. She was a poor salesperson, and she had a poor attitude. She quickly got Tammy and Roxanne on board with this assessment, and tried to convince Sean. Sean smartly stayed above the fray. And too his credit, he doesn’t try to hide this from his team members. He told Allie he wouldn’t stab anyone in the back.

    Allie was determined to get rid of Andrea. She planned to tear her apart. After the attack, she says, “There will be blood on the walls.”

    In the board room, things go pretty much according to plan. Andrea and Roxanne go after Andrea. Tammy does to a lesser extent. Sean tries to avoid much of the conflict, but does suggest Allie is the one who should be fired. He also says that no one successfully adapted to the different personalities.

    Allie cites the lousy graphics in the brochure and says, “I’m gone for two hours, and then see it’s a shoddy job.” Of course the reason she was gone for two hours was she missed the boat.

    She claims Andrea never suggested bulk sales until the end of the task, despite her expertise in the area.

    Andrea disavowed her expertise in bulk sales and graphics. She said her expertise is in operations, and something to the effect of, “I’m not the best salersperson; I hire great salespeople. I’m not the best graphics designer; I hire great graphics designers.”

    Allie claims Andrea had very poor sales on this task and the 7-11 task the week before. She claimed they won the GM task early on not because of Andrea’s leadership, but in spite of it.

    Allie put on a stellar boardroom performance. At the beginning, Trump had a lot of confidence in Andrea. By the end, Allie had convinced Trump to fire Andrea.

    He fired her because there was no chemistry on the team and he felt that Andrea’s personality was the reason.

    He felt it could be a supportive environment. Trump told Andrea, “I don’t see this group as being a vile and vicious group looking to get you fired.” Apparently, Trump didn’t see the Blood on the Walls plan Allie developed.

    Why Trump is Wrong

    The poor decisions of the project manager are why Synergy lost this task. Because she missed the boat, wrongly assigned Andrea to the graphics, screwed up the retail sales strategy, and failed to even consider bulk sales, Allie should have been fired.

    He fired Andrea for not getting along with the rest of the team. But she did get along with Sean. And she seemed to get along with Tammy.

    I’m not fan of Andrea, but her main failing on this task was her boardroom strategy. She couldn’t handle the criticism well, and didn’t mount an adequate defense. She never responded to Allie’s allegations, and never counter-attacked. She just claimed Allie was lying. But she didn’t have the Eye of the Tiger.

    I understand Trump’s decision, an perhaps Andrea wouldn’t have lasted more than a few weeks, but this week, is should have been Allie’s turn in the Yahoo! Jobs cab.

    Synergy lost for these reasons:

    1. No early Bulk Sales Strategy
    2. The PM missed the literal boat during the preparation day
    3. The PM missed the figurative boat that morning and didn’t get out early enough

    Synergy did not lose because of an inferior brochure. They lost because the Gold Rush made better sales decisions.

    Ties on T-Shirts…

    …Are stupid. No one looks good wearing a tie on top of a T-Shirt or non-collared shirt. It looks lame. It looks sleazy. It looks like your trying too hard to look cool. It looks like you are pretending to be “Not the Man” while still wearing a tie.

    It’s not jaunty. It’s not funny. It’s not silly. It’s not classy. It’s not professional. It’s stupid.

    And when the tie happens to be a big fat tie with the stars and stripes all over it, it looks even worse.

    What every possessed Synergy to wear that ridiculous uniform while trying to sell a classy brochure to tourists on their way to visit what for many is solemn ground? Ellis Island is a place wear people could now envision the American Dream and a new life away from the war, famine, discrimination, and disease they faced in their home country. People embarked on new lives here. People died here. People were sent away from here.

    And Synergy dressed like they were selling tickets at the Shecky Green Presidential Library.

    Gold Rush dressed in a more sensible manner. They all looked like college students from Up with People, but it wasn’t obnoxious.

    Trump hair

    This week, instead of Carolyn, George, or Bill, Trump’s own children supervised the candidates.

    Shockingly, Donald Jr. inherited his Dad’s hair problems.


    Lee is doing very well. Not only did he win this week, but he displayed the political acumen that will take him far. At the end of last week’s episode, Charmaine made a late, last minute defense of Leslie as they were all leaving the board room. She called on Trump to not fire Leslie, but to fire Lee instead.

    It didn’t work.

    But when Lee got back up to the Suite, he was all smiles. He didn’t let it bother him. He told Charmaine not to worry about it, and he didn’t take out any frustration on her.

    He appeared to completely forgive her for the attack, and bore no ill will. Whether that was genuine or not remains to be seen, but he appears to have his eyes focused on the big prize. He wants it and he is going to get there.

    His people skills will take him far.

    Attack on Tivo

    NBC doesn't liek people like we. I love my Tivo. It changed my life and the way I watch TV forever. Now I watch the Apprentice and other programs when it's convenient for me. And I only watch commercials I want to see -- which meand I can begin to recover from the trauma brought on by the Burger King.

    The networks would love to ban Tivo, but that won't happen just yet. So they are trying the softer approch.

    NBC began a weekly contest this week called Get Rich with Trump! They give away $10,000 in a through a contest. The catch is the contest begin and ends -- local time -- during the show. If you are time shifting, you can't win. Deal or No Deal has a similar contest.

    It's a clever move, and this is the kind of anti-Tivo activity I can support.

    I'd still rather skip the commercials though. But I guess that would mean not watching the Apprentice again.


    More Shatner -- Taxi

    Well worth watching. Especially once it gets past 2:20.

    Straphangers Take to the Air

    Tuesday, April 25, 2006

    Will you stand for less room on flights?
    Airbus floats idea of SRO 'seating' to Asian carriers


    For a couple years, people have been saying there is no elegance in air travel. It's become more like taking a Greyhound.

    They optimistic. It turns out it's more like taking the Q24 to Jamaica.

    Because there are not enough seat in coach, Airbus is actually suggesting that airlines who choose to purchase the A380 behemoth add Standing seats, so they can take capacity form roughly 550 people to more than 850 people on the same plane.

    Absurd and ludicrous. But then again, maybe it's more comfortable than sitting between two slightly larger than average individuals in a tiny row.

    I'm both appalled and intrigued.

    Airbus has been quietly pitching the standing-room-only option to Asian carriers, though none has agreed to it yet. Passengers in the standing section would be propped against a padded backboard, held in place with a harness, according to experts who have seen a proposal.


    With a typical configuration, the A380 will accommodate about 500 passengers. But standing-room-only seats would make it easier for the same plane to fit in 853 passengers, the maximum it would be permitted to carry.

    "To call it a seat would be misleading," said Volker Mellert, a physics professor at Oldenburg University in Germany, who has done research on airline seat comfort and has seen the design. He said such a configuration would be used only on short-haul flights such as an island-hopping route in Japan.

    Although an Airbus spokeswoman played down the idea that Airbus was trying to sell an aircraft that accommodated 853 passengers, the company would not specifically comment on the upright-seating proposal.

    There is no legal barrier to installing standing-room seats on an American airliner. The Federal Aviation Administration does not mandate that a passenger be in a sitting position for takeoffs and landings; only that the passenger is secured. Seats must only comply with the agency's rules on the width of aisles and the ability to
    evacuate quickly.

    The Air Transport Association, the trade association for the airline industry in the United States, does not have any seat-comfort standards. Nor does it issue any recommendations on seating configurations.


    Summer Blockbuster Movie

    The latest summer block buster is now on line at PlayCole.com and on Youtube.com

    The Steven's File is one man's harrowing quest to right a wrong. Watch it today. Then click "Feature This!" on the YouTube site.


    Tulip Festival 2006

    The Skagit Valley, 60 miles north of Seattle, is home to the largest Tulip crops in the US. Each year, they celebrate their success with the annual Tulip Festival. Toursist from Seattle make the drive north to wander through thousands of acres of Tulips.

    But it's not just Seattle, tourist come from around the world to see these amazing burst of color that spinkle the landscape like paint. They come from Japan, China, India, Germany, eastern Europe, and dozens of other countries. And they all ask me to take their picture for them.

    It particularly entertaining to watch parent with their children. Invariably, they are there for one purpose -- to get a really cute picture of their child sitting among the flowers. Often the mother tries to hold the child, while the hapless father attempts to coax a smile from young one. As you might expect, the children are having none of this. Thus, the dream of the perfect family Christmas card blows away in the wind like pollen.

    I've gone every year since 1999 and have gigabytes of Tulip pictures now. What follows are a few that I took today.

    I shot all these pictures with a Nikon CoolPix 7600 and max resolution and quality. I used Picassa 2 to shrink them down to a more managable web size. If you'd like a full size version, email me at cromely@playcole.com

    Here is my favorite sign from the event:

    I can't hope to do justice to the lush landscape in these images, but they may give you a general idea.

    More to Follow

    More Tulip Pictures

    Landscapes Continued

    Tulip Festival

    Images Continued

    Tulip Festival -- Other Images

    This fountain is at Tulip Town. The fountain is the Tulip Statue in the middle of the image. The water the fountain sprays is bue.

    The Statue of Liberty isn't completely random; it's leftover from the display they did in 2002, commemorating 9/11. That display included a US flag made from different color tulips.

    The weather was good this year. As a result, the farm grew an impressive crop of tourists. And the weeds haven't gotten them yet.

    Tulip Festival -- Macro

    The large scale of the event is impressive. Equally impressive, however, is the small scale.

    Tulip Festival -- Macro Continued

    Tulip Festival -- Final

    Finally, a few more I though were kind of neat.

    Tulip Festival -- 2006









    Chinese President Hu Jintao's White House Adventrure


    I think the protocol staff at the White House is going to get a good talking to over the next few days.

    If only the White House hadn't given press credentials to a Falun Gong activist who five years ago heckled Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin, in Malta. Sure enough, 90 seconds into Hu's speech on the South Lawn, the woman started shrieking "President Hu, your days are numbered!" and "President Bush, stop him from

    Bush and Hu looked up, stunned. It took so long to silence her — a full three minutes — that Bush aides began to wonder if the Secret Service's strategy was to let her scream herself hoarse. The rattled Chinese president haltingly attempted to continue his speech, and television coverage went to split screen.

    "You're OK," Bush gently reassured Hu.

    But he wasn't OK, not really. The protocol-obsessed Chinese leader suffered a day full of indignities — some intentional, others just careless. The visit began with a slight when the official announcer said the band would play the "national anthem of the Republic of China" — the official name of Taiwan. It continued when Vice President Dick Cheney donned sunglasses for the ceremony, and again when Hu, attempting to leave the stage via the wrong staircase, was yanked back by his jacket. Hu looked down at his sleeve to see the president of the United States tugging at
    it as if redirecting an errant child.

    Then there were the intentional slights. China wanted a formal state visit such as Jiang got in 1997, but the administration refused, calling it an "official" visit instead. Bush acquiesced to the 21-gun salute but insisted on a luncheon instead of a formal dinner, in the East Room instead of the State Dining Room. Even the visiting country's flags were missing from the lampposts near the White House.

    Now, it's one thing when the random person on the street mixes up Taiwan and mainland China, but you really don't want the White House making that mistake.


    Brazil following Iran's nuclear path -- few care

    This is my favorite headline of the day.

    Brazil following Iran's nuclear path -- few care

    "Whereas Iran leads a war of words against nuclear-armed Israel and has defied a U.N. Security Council request to stop all uranium enrichment, Brazil is peaceful and democratic. It doesn't have border disputes, is not in an arms race and strives for good relations with all nations. Its last war ended in 1870."

    GM reports profit excluding special items - Apr. 20, 2006

    GM reports profit excluding special items - Apr. 20, 2006

    So are things shaping up for GM?

    The embattled automaker reported that it earned $152 million, or 26 cents a share, excluding all special items in the period, such as a $1 billion pre-tax charge related to an agreement to change health care coverage for hourly retirees and their families.

    Still, the company reported an operating loss of $529 million, or 94 cents a share when it excluded most of the special items but included the health care charge. It was not immediately clear which numbers are accepted by analysts surveyed by earnings tracker First Call, who had a consensus forecast of a loss of 44 cents a share. The company lost $988 million, or $1.75 a share excluding special items in the year earlier period.

    It sounds like it. They are getting their operations in order. They are trying to clean up the Delphi mess, and they are making some decent cars, if my recent Hertz experience is any indication. While things are improving in the US, the money is actually coming from the land of BMWs, Volkswagons, and Fiat, where the people aren't used to reliable cars.

    But the company's European operations returned to profitability, and profits improved in its other two regions -- Asian-Pacific and Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

    Where they do especially well in the US is not in making cars, but in making loans.

    The company's results were lifted by continued strong results at its finance unit, GMAC, even though profits there slipped to $605 million from $728 million a year earlier. GM recently announced plans to sell just more than half of that unit, though, in an attempt to help it eventually return to an investment-grade credit rating.

    So it sounds like they are building a strong, diversified company where everything is starting to improve.

    Don't believe it. They still have expensive retirees, a huge infrastructure, too many brands, and labor challenges.

    The big problem for GM, though, will happen on 2008-07-09. That's when gas will hit $5 gallon for good. The cars GM has been most successful with?

    The company said its revenue per vehicle sold in North America was significantly higher in the quarter than a year ago due to the introduction of new models of its large SUV's.

    "We are very pleased with the market's reaction to our launch products," said Wagoner's statement. "In the first three months of the year, our new products accounted for about 30 percent of our total sales -- more than double where we were a couple of years ago. We're especially encouraged by the early sales of the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon, and Cadillac Escalade."

    Until GM can shrink it's product lines (do we really need Buick?) and develop a significant and profitable presence in the small- to mid- size car market, they will continue to be in trouble.

    Today was a good day for the stock, but GM is in too tenous a position to be considered anything but a speculative buy. That's my stock tip for the day.


    Sometimes the Dorkiest Things Become Cool

    Have you seen the kids on the street with the wheels in their shoes? All of a sudden they're everywhere.

    I remember when something similar popped up a couple years ago. They were roller skates built into shoes. I believe the retracted in a non skating environment. They never really caught on. Because there was no way they could possibly be cool.

    You know how I know that? Because something like this seemed like a good idea to me.

    But now the "Heely's" are suddenly all over the place. When did they suddenly become cool? On April 7 of this year. That's when I started seeing the all these 8-13 year olds all over Vegas wearing them and wheeling up and down the Strip.

    Now, we know these were the cool little kids because they were in Vegas.

    But now they are popping up in Seattle and in the airports. Kids with these wheels embedded in their shoes sort of slide or skate around.

    Pretty soon these kids will be knocking you down all over town.

    Why I can never go back to a cubicle

    I work from home so I have to get my office stories from my girlfriend.

    Things are complicated out there.

    Last Friday she and her co-workers went to a brew pub for lunch. Which makes no sense because Fridays are for Asian food. That's why every Friday is called Asian Food Friday.

    But it gets worse. Today they went out for Baja Fresh. But it's not supposed to be Baja Tuesdays -- it Baja Thursdays. There's not such thing as Baja Tuesday. Just the sound of it is ridiculous. Tuesday makes no sense.

    Besides, Tuesdays are Free Donut Tuesdays. But there were no donuts.

    The entire social order has broken down.

    Sounds like someone missed their Starbucks

    Some airports don't have any ATC (such as a small one outside Boise where a friend used to fly private planes). But SEA?


    Sea-Tac control tower silent for 25 minutes

    SEATAC, Wash. -- For 25 minutes in the wee hours of April 11, the control tower at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport did not respond to airplane traffic.

    "There were two planes affected - one trying to take off and one trying to come in," airport spokesman Bob Parker said Monday.

    The unexplained silence, which started about 3 a.m. that day, ended when a Port of Seattle staff member drove to the guard shack at the base of the control tower.

    At the time, only one controller was required to be in the glassed-in part of the tower, KING reported. Starting the next day - in a change that the FAA said was already in the works - two controllers were required to be there.


    A Special Thanks...

    ...To Maria Palma for the plug on her blog.

    CustomersAreAlways: Lessons Learned From "The Apprentice"

    Apprentice Week 08: Eight Bucks for Eight Weeks

    In Week 8 of the Apprentice (or episode 2 on 2006-04-10) we get to see an interesting clash of values. The team that lost did so clearly based on the decisions of the Project Manager. Most interesting about the loss, however, was the question of team dynamics. How do you reward risk takers? How do you value those efforts? And, of course, continuing from last week, how well do you know your customers and market?
    Gold Rush had their fourth consecutive loss tonight, and Trump fired Project Manager Leslie. She made a crucial, arbitrary pricing error.

    Synergy, under Andrea’s leadership, got the pricing right and therefore won. They also did some early promotion work, which helped. Andrea did have a certain amount of luck because her hat promo was a stupid idea.

    Table of Contents

    1. Lessons Learned
    2. The Task
    3. Common Failure
    4. Team Synergy
    5. Team Gold Rush
    6. Boardroom
    7. Why Trump Fired Leslie
    8. Final Thoughts

    Lessons Learned

    • The right price is critical to success
    • The right price can compensate for a lousy premium
    • Go after big sales when possible. Even if it doesn’t go through, Trump recognizes the effort.
    • Take Trump’s boardroom advice.
    • Qualify and listen to you customer – Do your research

    The Task

    This week’s partner was 7-11. Apparently, 7-11 has more than 28,000 locations around the world. That’s almost as many as McDonalds has, and roughly 4 times as many locations as Starbucks.

    7-11 is rolling out a new sandwich, called the P’EatZZa sandwich. This is a sandwich between two sliced of cold pizza. Another brilliant idea from the people who brought us the Slurpee and the 3:AM robbery. While this sandwich may be tasty, if I want leftovers, I’ll go to my fridge – not the refrigerated cases at 7-11.

    Teams were supposed to design a giveaway to go along with the sandwich. They could have a photoshoot with a 7-11 Racing car and driver, as well as graphics assistance to create their campaign.

    The team with the biggest increase in store sales wins. What the sales increase is based on is not 100% clear from the information they give us; presumably, they are comparing this year’s sand which sales to last years sandwich sales for the store. For full details, see the dossier.

    Common Failure

    Neither team did adequate research. Gold Rush failed to research pricing. Synergy failed to research premiums.

    Either team could have sent 2 people down to the 7-11 to talk to customer about their shopping and sandwich habits. Neither did.

    One team should have taken part of their budget to purchase a prize – maybe a $50 7-11 gift card (if they have those). They could have invited customers to complete a short survey for a chance to win the prize.

    They could have asked about pricing, how much people spend on a 7-11 lunch, what makes one sandwich stand out from another, what the most appealing aspect of the P’EatZZa is, what items they would like with their sandwich, and more. In three hours, they could have had enough data to guarantee a win.

    Last week’s Gold Rush loss was because they didn’t listen to their customer. This week, no one talked to the customer unless they were trying to make a sale.

    Team Synergy

    Synergy began their meeting in a pretty open manner. Andrea, the project manager, asked the team to brainstorm ideas for the premium and to discuss them. Someone mentioned hats, and Andrea decided she liked that idea and quickly moved to cut off debate. The team wasn’t please with hats and tossed out a few more ideas until Andrea announce, “I’m telling you it’s hats.”

    That was a potentially bad move. Hats have nothing to do with the P’EatZZa. During the task and the boardroom, Carolyn said it was a stupid idea. People are not going to be interested in the product for a hat. “Try my sandwich. I’ll give you a hat,” doesn’t work.

    Synergy did a couple things right. First, they set a good price point -- $4. It seems like a good buy, and you can add a beverage and get out for less that $5. Second, they did some advance promotion work. They went to the store the night before and passed out flyers promoting the event the following day. They built some buzz, and a lot of people came back based on the flyer.

    The team worked hard. I’m not sure how much influence Andrea’s leadership had on the victory, but they did win -- with a 997% increase in sales versus the previous year.

    Team Gold Rush

    The loss today was about the conflict between Leslie and Lee. For much of the season, Leslie kept a low profile. She was smart enough to speak only when spoken tot in the board room, and did not make the mistakes a lot of other players made. But, 8 weeks into a 13 week process was time for her to lead a team and show what she could do.

    During the team’s first major meeting, Lee pointed out that he was the target audience for this product – young, college student, and broke. He emphasized that he was the primary demographic. He is young, but I’m not sure about the other two. He did have a valid point though about the demographic. And, the 7-11 they had was near a university.

    Lee emphasized how important it was that the product had to be inexpensive. He argued with Leslie about it. The rest of the team seemed to support Leslie, and Leslie stuck with her price of one for $7.99 or two for $8.99. That expensive price point was completely out of whack.

    During the task the next day, Lee reported to Leslie that he overheard store employees complaining that the price was way too high, and that it needed to be under $5, like other sandwiches. When he told Leslie, she blew him off, and complained behind his back that he should have brought it up sooner.

    Thus, Leslie screwed up on the price early. When she had the opportunity to correct that error, she passed on that as well. This would be the crucial mistake she makes as project manager.

    Gold Rush did a couple things right. First, they had a nice premium. It was a portable cooler, which makes more sense then hats. It’s something they can keep their P’EatZZa in, along with a few beverages.

    Second, she sent a team of three on ahead to scout the store. She put Lee in that group, probably to get him away from her. While they were scouting the store, Lee talked the store manager into pulling all the other sandwiches off the shelf the following day so the only think out there would be the P’EatZZa. They didn't talk to many customers, though.

    Meanwhile, Leslie and Tarek worked on trivia questions. I don’t know why.

    For some reason, they seemed to think that if they shouted pizza and/or sandwich trivia at people on the street, those people would be so intrigued, they would walk into the store and buy a P’EatZZa. For eight bucks. And they thought this was a good idea.

    So the next day, Tarek was busy shouting trivia, Leslie was looking for Lee, and the rest of the team was pushing sandwiches. For eight bucks. Leslie was upset she couldn’t find Lee.

    As it turns out, Lee was trying to sell 1,000 P’EatZZa to a business man. Had the deal worked, Lee would have saved the team and been the hero. Instead, negotiations broke down over fifty cents. Or $500, depending on how you look at it. After Lee checked with Leslie, the lowest price he could offer was $2.50 per P’EatZZa, and the customer was willing to pay only $2.00 per P’EatZZa.

    In the end, Gold Rush increased sales only 608%. It was an impressive number, but not enough to win, sending Gold Rush to the boardroom for the fourth consecutive time.


    Gold Rush didn’t do horribly on this task. They increased sales by 608%. That wasn’t as much as Synergy’s 997% increase, but it is still impressive.

    Leslie decided the reason they failed was Lee. She felt he didn’t work hard enough, and that she needed him on the sales floor while he was off negotiating the deal that fell through. She argued that Lee completely wasted time with that deal.

    After much back and forth, during which she came under heavy criticism, Trump asked her who she wanted to bring into the boardroom. He specifically said she could bring one or two people in with her. He then added that she should probably bring two. She chose only Lee. Trump asked her if she was sure. She assured him she was.

    This was a big mistake. When Trump strongly suggests you bring in two people, you bring in two people. We have seen this over and over again this season. When Trump tells the PM who to bring in, or how many people to bring in, the PMs routinely disregard this advice. When they disregard it, they get fired.

    People – it’s not that hard. Listen to Trump. Do what he says. That helps your chances. A lot.

    So she opts to bring in Lee. Lee, who seemed to do well earlier with Trump, and who Trump praised in the previous episode for his loyalty.

    The rest of the board room went quickly. Trump asked why she brought in Lee. Lee was the one who cleared the shelves of competing products. Leslie felt that wasn’t a big deal because she would probably have come up with that the next morning anyway.

    Lee was too hard to manage because he argued about price the night before and brought it up again that morning. Of course Lee was right, and Leslie was wrong, but she seemed to disregard that.

    Leslie attacked Lee for the failed 1,000 sandwich order, conceding that if it had gone through, they would clearly have won, and Lee would have been a hero. Since it fell through, Lee was just a zero.

    Trump wasn’t buying it. He said, “The concept of that deal was the best idea,” the team had.

    And he fired Leslie.

    Why Trump Fired Leslie

    In short, Trump fired Leslie because:

    • She had the pricing completely wrong
    • She attacked Lee over the failed 1,000 unit order
    • She brought only one person into the board room
    • She couldn’t see how any of this was anyone’s fault but Lee’s.

    Final Thoughts

    Morning Phone Etiquette

    When Rhona Graff, Trump’s Executive Assistant calls in the morning to tell them about the next task, the phone rings for a long time. Then a groggy candidate wobbles out of bed, picks up the phone, and croaks out a weak “Hullo?”

    People – the phone probably rings at roughly the same time each morning. You know it’s coming. Is it too much trouble for someone to wake up a little before then to be articulate? There must be at least one morning person in the Suite.

    Plus, it’s a business call. How about instead of a stray grunt, answer it, “Good Morning, this is Philip in the Suite.”

    When interviewing for a job or setting up a meeting, don’t treat admins with the disdain the candidates seem to hold. They do often influence their bosses’ decisions. A good admin is gold and the boss knows it.

    Lee and Objectivity

    At the beginning of the show, Charmaine had a conversation with Lee about Lenny’s firing. She though Lee was wrong to defend Lenny so strongly. (Of course Trump disagreed, but I’ve beaten that topic into the ground). She told Lee he needed to be more objective in future tasks.

    Lee, however, disagreed. He quite honestly told Charmaine that he had no plans to be objective. He believes in sticking up for his friends, and made it quite clear he will continue to do so.

    Synergy and Michael

    After his win as Project Manager the previous week, Synergy made it quite clear to Michael that it wasn’t his win. His penchant for over analyzing the situation caused a great deal of trouble.

    After this conversation, the tone of which was quite negative, who could blame him when Michael jumped at the opportunity to join Gold Rush.


        Apprentice Week 07: The Ultimate in Customer Service

        I think NBC is out to get me. They don't seem to realize that they are not the most important organization in my life right now. They seem to think they can show two new Apprentice episodes in one day, and that I will watch them both, take notes, and report on them.

        Okay, so they're right. I'm still going to privately swear at them.

        The tasks are getting harder, and the teams are getting better. Anymore, the losing team is still quite successful. Disastrous performances are disappearing. Small errors make the difference between success and failure. Both teams were good this week. But they were different enough for a clear winner to emerge.

        Below is the update for Week 7. Look for the Week 8 update tomorrow.


        1. Lessons Learned
        2. Main Theme
        3. The Task
        4. Team Approaches
        5. Boardroom
        6. Final Thoughts

        Lessons Learned:

        • Always qualify your customer. In detail.
        • Pay attention to what the judges want. The judges are the most important people in the room.
        • Loyalty counts. Stick up for people you believe in.

        Main theme

        I worked for Ultimate Electronics in 1995. During the four week training program, they made us regularly recite the 12 Commandments of Customer Service from memory. At least I think there were 12. It was a long time ago, and itÂ’s unlikely my audience worked there and would know other wise so I'm sticking with 12.

        Number 4 on the list was, "Never assume you know the solution to a customer's problem until you ask a minimum of four questions."

        The idea was that you have to understand not only what a customer says they want, but also what they want to do with a product, who else will use it, what preferences they have, etc. By asking a lot of questions, you can begin to put together the solution that best meets that customer's need.

        Synergy Project Manager Michael spent 45 minutes with ACE Hardware executives to understand what they wanted, and how they did business. Synergy won.

        Gold Rush Project Manager Lenny did not prepare to meet with the executives, spent just 10 minutes with them, and asked very few questions. Gold Rush lost.

        The Task

        Donald Trump brought the team to one of the buildings he is renovating to introduce them to the next task. In the live construction zone, we see all the eager candidates and everyone else don their protective hardhats. Except, of course, for The Don, whose "hair" must be made from Kevlar to avoid the OSHA violation.

        Their task is to work with ACE Hardware's New Faces for Helpful Places campaign. This program renovates places in communities throughout the country that help make it a better place to live. The best part about the program, however, has got to be the picture of Trump and Bill Rancic promoting a contest.

        Trump announced this weeks sponsorship, um, I mean, "Project" in his stilted Trump English. "A great company is ACE Hardware." He gave each team a recreation room at a Queens, NY, Boys and Girls club. Their job is to renovate it, and turn it in to a space kids will want to use. Two executives from ACE Hardware and one from the Boys and Girls Club would choose the winner based on three criteria:

        1. Creativity
        2. Functionality
        3. Appeal to the kids

        For more details on the task, see the official dossier.

        Team Approaches

        Before meeting with the executives from ACE, Gold Rush went to work brainstorming. After their brief meeting, they narrowed their choices for a theme down to music or dance. Lenny quickly decided on music, and they were off and running.

        Synergy adopted a different pace. They met with the ACE executives for almost an hour and grilled them about what they wanted the room to be, and how the New Faces for Helpful Places program worked. Then, under Michael's leadership they brainstormed some more and thought about everything. Three or Four times. Michael was not decisive and obsessed over every decision. Gold Rush was already shopping for their room while Synergy was still working through the concepts.

        Synergy came up with a collection of activity areas, with different areas designed to appeal to different kids. They had a music area, a board game area, a video game area, and others. They incorporated the program logo and the ACE colors. They tried to meet the diverse needs of the kids. Time spent with the ACE and Club executives early on paid off, and they won.

        Gold Rush lost because they didn't ask enough questions of the executives. They didn't understand their needs. Gold Rush put together a nice room, but its theme was too narrow. The music theme lacked the universal appeal of Synergy's multi-user activity space.


        Trump fired Lenny because he missed the mark on the project. During the board room discussion, Lenny acknowledged that he didn't deliver what the executives wanted, but he didn't really care. He actually said, "I'm not trying to please the judges."

        In a competition, you have two choices. You can try to win. Or you can compete for the spirit of it. If you are a trying to win, and I think Lenny did want to win, you have to appeal the judges. Lenny missed that point.

        During the boardroom, Carolyn pointed out that with only expensive musical instruments in the room, it would be very difficult for a non-profit to maintain. And the room was usable only for those who wanted to play music or watch other kids play. Lenny did not think these were important concerns, and blew them off. Had he spent more time qualifying his customer, things might have been different.

        This firing was so clear cut, Trump didn't give the Lenny opportunity to bring anyone back into the board room; he fired Lenny from the group meeting.

        Final Thoughts

        • This week opens in the Suite with Leslie crying over Bryce's departure. She felt she had lost a friend. Gold Rush's loss in the Arby's task was a tough one. The team did well, just not well enough. There is a lot more crying this year than in the past, however.
        • Lee is an interesting candidate. He is one of my picks for the final four.

          He was the only member of Gold Rush who supported Lenny in the boardroom. He helped Lenny prepare for the boardroom the night before. They worked on strategy, word, choice, and appealing to Trump.

          During the board room, Lee stood up for Lenny, explaining that Lenny was his friend, and felt Lenny had a lot of potential. He defended Lenny in an articulate manner, even when things looked bad for Lenny.

          Trump asked Lenny who he would take into the board room, and Lenny cited Lee and Charmaine. Trump asked Lee if he felt betrayed that Lenny would take him into the boardroom. Lee explained that he didn't; he saw it as an opportunity to defend his friend.

          Lenny didn't get the chance to bring anyone back, so it became a moot point. After Trump fired, Lenny though, he made of point of telling Lee that he really admired Lee's loyalty to Lenny.

        • Michael almost lost the task for Synergy. He was so concerned and focused with hitting the exact right idea that he almost didn't execute. His indecisiveness delayed the team and cost them critical shopping hours. His continued second guessing of his own decisions in things like paint color killed his team morale. The team worked hard, though, and executed on Michael's vision well.

        • Synergy's prize this week was to help a girl with a rare form of brain cancer pick out toys on a shopping spree at Toys R Us, though the Make A Wish foundation. Trump stopped by and kept telling the girl to go get more toys.