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Margaret Mountford Apprentice Watch Week 9

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    Posted: 20 May 2009 at 11:43

The Apprentice 2009: Margaret Mountford's Apprentice Watch - Week Nine

In her exclusive column, Sir Alan Sugar's aide previews the baby show task.


By Margaret Mountford
Last Updated: 6:35PM BST 19 May 2009

The Apprentice: James demonstrates how to use a birthing pool Photo: BBC

Tonight’s task is, or at least should be, child’s play. Each team is given a stall at The Baby Show, which is held at the Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre in London and attracts more than 10,000 mums, dads and parents-to-be looking for baby-related products. Some of them are there to do research, but most are looking for bargains, items they will buy then and there because they know they will have to pay more if they de

This time Sir Alan chooses the project managers himself. He appoints James, who leads Empire, and Lorraine, who’s in charge of Ignite, primarily because both are parents and should, theoretically, have a good understanding of the target market. I think that both of them talk sense and make some good decisions. Each team’s first challenge is to select two products they think will sell well.

They are each given the same two shortlists by Sir Alan, and each team has to pick one item from each list. This involves zigzagging back and forth across London to visit all the makers of the various products, which range from stuffed toys and buggies to toddlers’ crash helmets and birthing pools. James has to be quite forceful to make Ben follow his (eminently sensible) instructions; I wonder is Ben ever happy unless he’s in charge.

My least favourite products on the list are tiny, fluffy stilettos for babies. I think they’re truly awful – in real bad taste – but they might be just the kind of gimmicky, relatively inexpensive product that will sell well at a show as an impulse buy: you either love them or hate them. However, there’s more to the task than smart product selection. The teams need to consider what discounts they can offer to potential buyers, and whether they will be the only sellers of their chosen product(s) at the show.

One possible choice that catches everyone’s eye is a range of beautiful, hand-crafted wooden rocking horses. Debra is most taken with these, even before she’s seen them. She’s spent much of the series riding one hobby-horse or another but tonight she has the chance to ride one for real; maybe it’s the whip that’s the attraction.

The rocking horses don’t come cheap, though: the cheapest costs over £1,500. Is it the kind of toy that people will be prepared to buy at a show? On the other hand, people do spend a lot of money on their children and if they are prepared to spend thousands on electronics equipment that will soon go out of date, why not spend the same amount on an heirloom that will be handed down to their grandchildren? It’s always a gamble, in a task like this, to pick such an expensive item; we saw how successful it could be in the wedding dress task in the last series.

Some of the other products are more practical and affordable. Lorraine chooses a children’s buggy that rather cleverly collapses and folds up, at least it does if you know how it works. Kate does an excellent job of demonstrating it – in fact she looks rather like an air hostess stowing away your luggage in the overhead compartment. But Lorraine gets into a terrible muddle. I wasn’t sure if she was demonstrating the buggy or trying to wrestle it to the ground.

Ben, meanwhile, is starting to sound like a broken record about the scholarship he was offered to Sandhurst. Goodness knows how he thinks a Sandhurst scholarship will help him sell a birthing pool to expectant mothers.

This task brings out the best in others, however. Yasmina shows a softer side than she did last week, when she was in full Sergeant Major mode. And James surprises everyone with his detailed anatomical knowledge of the advantages of using a birthing pool. He’s clearly one of those husbands who paid close attention when his wife was pregnant. However, I sense that he’s feeling the pressure after last week’s close shave in the boardroom. As he says himself, “I’m skating on thin ice – and I think Sir Alan might be waiting for it to crack.” This week’s final boardroom showdown certainly gives the surviving candidates a shock. They are flabbergasted to see who returns to the penthouse, while the fired candidate is left hitting the sofa outside the boardroom in frustration.

As usual, the victorious team is given a treat. This week it involves the cartoonist Gerald Scarfe – although, judging by their blank expressions, I’m not sure that any of the winning candidates had even heard of him.

The Apprentice is on tonight at 9.00pm on BBC One

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