The Apprentice, Episode 3: cheesy negotiation across the Channel » SMEInsider

The Apprentice, Episode 3: cheesy negotiation across the Channel

This week, half our plucky The Apprentice candidates hopped across the Channel seeking the best deals on France’s finest fare, while the other half haggled for bargains in Kent in a task that put negotiating skills to the ultimate test. As ever, we bring you expert commentary from last year’s runner-up, entrepreneur Bianca Miller, and Neil Dagger, senior product marketing manager for domain name registry Nominet. Catch up on the last episode hereWarning: contains spoilers.

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Bianca Miller


This week’s task, which I like to call the ‘scavenger hunt’, is actually one of my favourite tasks from The Apprentice, and not because the task often descends into chaos!

The task was to find an array of fairly random items – the difficulty lying in the fact that half of each team was in Kent and the other half was bound for France.

Project managers

Joseph Valente, PM for team Versatile, cleverly started the task by identifying who spoke French – ideal for deciding how to divide the teams.

Vana Koutsomitis, PM for team Connexus, didn’t appear to have any strategy except to alienate the rest of the team by laying out some ground rules about women working together and then promptly ignoring any suggestions that came her way.

TA11 e3 vana takes charge

The strategy

Team Versatile decided to split the team and the tasks, then decided on a strategy: to get the cheapest items as quickly as possible. After identifying the French-speaking person on their team, it quickly became clear that his French may not have been as effective as one would have hoped when they waste time in a store that has ‘mirrors’ but not ‘the’ mirror. On this task, time is money, and I think this was forgotten especially when Richard spent longer than required negotiating a discount of 30 cents…

the apprentice cheese negotiation

Team Connexus didn’t seem to have much of a strategy and Vana blindly divided the list into two without knowing what the products were. This resulted in the UK team looking for items that were clearly from the French market. They shoot back and forth in France without much focus, even making four trips to one store, buying a boat for £250 that the boys bought for £10 in a toy shop. The numerous trips to the store smelt of desperation – not a particularly good tool for negotiation unless the person then takes pity on you.

For anyone that did watch last year’s series, to me this is another Skeletongate scenario… bizarrely Lord Sugar didn’t seem to think so.

TA11 e3 connexus in the boardroom

In short, the women lose. Why? Because they were not organised, and their team leader believed she was the team and didn’t want to listen to anyone else. The lines are clearly drawn and Jenny Garbis was fired rather than Vana for being “deadweight” (Vana said this, not me). Sadly Jenny didn’t have the time to show us what she could do… such is the process.

Business principles from the show:

  • Negotiation is key to business success. I think it is fair to say that most business negotiation is largely a result of relationships, sometimes built over a long period of time. In this scenario, they needed to build relationships and negotiate at speed. The key to success in this type of negotiation is to understand some key principles before trying to make an offer, including:
    • Do they have the correct item in stock? Clearly this is a requirement and was missed on more than one occasion in this episode.
    • What does the item cost? You need to know the price first before asking for a discount.
    • Think about what you have as a budget for the product. More often than not it helps to suggest a price lower than the figure you have in mind so there is room for negotiation to take place and for both parties to feel like they have both had a deal.
    • Sometimes there really isn’t room to move the price… or they don’t want to move the price – this comes back to relationships. Can you get them to see your perspective and the potential longevity in your business relationship?
  • Sometimes you have to get dirty – not literally of course, by digging manure – but there are times in business when you want to get something done and you have to do it yourself. Business is not always glamorous.

TA11 e3 feet in manure

  • Charm and humour go a long way – this is relevant for business relationships in general and negotiation skills.
  • “Teamwork makes the dream work” – this couldn’t be more true. People want to work with people who appreciate, respect and occasionally use their ideas and perspective.

the apprentice team versatile celebrate



Neil Dagger


Round 3 and it’s our old favourite task on The Apprentice once more. The frantic pursuit of a random collection of bizarre items to be procured at the lowest possible price.

This year’s assortment of would-be “business legends in the making” enjoyed a couple of novel twists to the locate and negotiate task. Setting out from Dover in Kent, the challenge was to work through a shopping list, locate a vendor and negotiate the best price. One group operated from Kent whilst the other half of their teams were exported to annoy the French around Calais.

the apprentice selina negotiates

Items sought included some typically French items such as cheese, snails, a French mirror, mussels and Calais lace. The remainder of items could be purchased more readily in the UK. The other twist involved an overnight stay on location giving a full day’s shopping opportunity, and more importantly, a full evening for proper planning.

This planning opportunity seemed to have been ignored. There was no evidence of a plan. It didn’t appear that much thought was given to where to buy the items or in what sequence, missing a valuable opportunity to seek out low price vendors and compare local price variations. The lack of clear strategy caused time-wasting, arguments, and rushed purchases at high prices as time ran out.
the apprentice claude littner in disbelief

In the real world the internet makes a task like this far simpler. Suppliers can be easily located, their stock and prices checked and route optimisation between selected vendors. The candidates are forbidden internet access. The task was a superb example of how we take the internet for granted helping us choose suppliers, compare prices, check stock availability and make purchase decisions.

In the end the girls team wasted time, failed to locate and buy all the required products and tragically bought the wrong cheese. They lost the task and the candidate deemed to have contributed the least was fired.

the apprentice jenny you're fired

Key business lessons here include to have a plan, but to also be flexible; to be supportive and positive – negativity is energy-sapping and will cause any team to fall apart – and to be decisive and keep moving, as the clock is always against you.

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