Young Apprentice and a master-class in negotiation. Not really.

The BBC series of Young Apprentice last week saw the famous negotiating task, so we watched to see what we might learn...  The two teams have to buy 10 items for an opera production.

The Candidates

David want to lead his team but the girls vote him down in favour of Steven. He then appoints David to lead two girls in the sub-team. David tells us that when you lead men you have to treat them like dogs, but when you lead women you have to flirt, be kind and show your softer side. Oh dear, this isn't going to go well....

Andrew leads the other team. He's a "catering entrepreneur" apparently, he’s 17 and looks all of 12. Andrew allocates the items to his team in about 5 seconds flat, and they get on the phone. "Just try to find the shops that have the items".  This is such a fake task though really, as they don’t have internet access.

David’s sub-team are on the road already and hit a garden centre to buy an Olive Tree. But they come up against a chap who doesn’t seem impressed by the fact he’s on TV.

“Why should I give you a discount”? he asks. “Do I ask my staff for a discount on their wages?” Good point.

“We are desperate”, says David. Big mistake.

“If you're desperate you would pay anything”, says Garden Centre Man with great glee. Another good point. I’m warming to him.  But the girls spot a sign saying 10% discount on house plants and persuade him that an Olive Tree might just be a house plant...

Andrew and his team meanwhile are struggling. They're still sitting in the office, no-one is thinking about which area they're going to visit, they don’t know the geography of London... .

Steven is out on the road, now in a street full of discount shops.  A good if unsubtle bit of bargaining from him gets red velvet at £9.95 a metre down to £6 - impressive!

Andrew's team are still sitting in the office. Patrick has at least worked out where they are physically and finally Andrew and Alice leave to buy stuff. He and Alice then play off two adjacent shops against each other nicely - £4.70 for the nine quid velvet! So just remember if you’re buying fabric, shops can give you a 50% discount apparently...

I like Alice. She has a natural charm that she's using well in the negotiations. "Regardless, I do need a deal, my friend" she says to one shopkeeper. It seems to work. But the rest of his team are still sitting in the office moaning.

The biggest item is a taxed and tested German car that can be driven back to the theatre. Surely that's going to be the dominant item in the shopping basket and will decide the winner?

Andrew and Alice find a very scruffy car. Andrew uses the cash in hand argument well and gets £200 off - a dodgy motor for £600. But the rest of his team are still sitting in the office phoning people. It’s clear by now that Andrew can negotiate but can't plan.  Finally the rest of his team have worked out what votives and candleabrum are! They get out of the office, do some good bargaining and get a pile of candles and a holder for £40.

Steven and Ashley are still wandering London looking for a cheap car. They find a cheap BMW but it's not taxed. His team started well but are fading fast in a miasma of bickering between David and Amy. It’s not helped by their somewhat dodgy grasp of geography or how long it takes to drive from A to B in London.

"Mile End is around here" says David pointing to a map. "That's Gloucester" points out Lucy. Best moment of the show. They finally hit the army surplus shop. "We'll send all our friends here if you give us a discount" they say. That gets them £10 discount off the army boots.

Results time. David's sub-team turns up late, and both teams ended up with just 5 of the 10 required items.  But I suspect the lack of a car is going to cost Steven dear. Sure enough the calculation of the winner is mainly around fines and notional cost of the items they didn't buy, and Steven's team lose. The losing team pick on David, as he's been in the boardroom twice before - what about Steven and Ashley who didn't find a car, which is ultimately what cost them the task?

But after the usual boardroom fuss, it is Amy who goes.  Steven and David are lucky. Her aggression in the Boardroom was too much even for Lord Sugar. She did come over as somewhat "difficult".

So what did we learn about negotiating ? Not a huge amount to be honest but let's try these:

  • Negotiating skills are one thing, lack of organisation is another. Planning is key.
  • Hard bargaining, allied with a bit of charm, can achieve pretty good results in some tactical negation situations.
  • The only example where they actually talked to two suppliers did pay off. Competition works.


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