- The Washington Times - Friday, March 25, 2005

Nothing was more appropriate than applying the Apprentice book-smart/street-smart test to the Home Depot success. With $70B in sales, this chain revolutionized home renovations by becoming a do-it-yourself retailer. Each team was tasked to create and operate an in-store “Do It Yourself Clinic” with the product of their choosing. The winning team would be judged by Home Depot Executives on three criteria: product innovation, customer innovation, and originality. Magna won hands-down with their space-saver storage box over Net Worth’s kitchen island on wheels and Erin got this week’s Trump-A-Dump.

Magna project manager Craig was supported by his team members knew he lacked communication skills to fully explain his vision and ideas. Fortunately, Craig’s instincts did all the work. He knew customers were there to “buy” something not “learn” something and insisted on because it would serve as both a toy and storage chest. The easy to build box with the multiple uses was a big winner from start to finish. Quickly assembled, the boxes were painted in white and Tana began a children’s hand-print station painting the palms of the children so the boxes would be timeless keepsakes. With bowls of candy to nibble on, lots of color, happy and upbeat Apprentices, and even a stationary black box that kids could chalk their autograph - Craig’s instincts proved to be an ideal “Do It Yourself” clinic with parents walking out of the store with both a practical and pretty product and a positive experience.

NetWorth, on the other hand, went complicated and cold. With her crown-molding idea quickly slammed by her teammates, project manager Angie agreed to a mobile kitchen island. Even after it took them 7 hours to build - they refused to switch and proceeded with a “Do It Yourself Clinic” that they could not effectively teach. Angie was drowned out by the drill sounds and Chris began building it upside down. It was more a demonstration of a “Don’t Do It Yourself” clinic. With NetWorth at 4 to Magna’s 5, when teammate Erin, the beauty queen lawyer, refused to participate claiming she had no knowledge of hammers and was unwilling to learn, this put NetWorth at a 2-person disadvantage in both ideas and effort.

The Home Depot judges blasted NetWorth and declared Craig’s Magna team the clear winner. For its high customer score, Magna got a prize that would take them even higher—a flight in a Zero-G airplane used for training astronauts, to experience weightlessness. In the Board Room, NetWorth’s Angie kept her mouth shut and out of trouble after Trump said how insistent Carolyn and George were that she be spared. The Donald attacked Erin for doing nothing and Chris for chewing tobacco. Chris announced he will be “tobacco free” for the duration of the Apprentice interview and forever if hired by Trump. In an odd and deperate twist, when Erin couldn’t defend herself and gave up swinging on Chris - she went after Trump for listening to George and Carolyn. Hello? “Erin, you’re fired!” were the inevitable word.

Lessons Learned

LESSON ONE

Keep it simple in concept and time. Craig knew his storage box was an easy D-I-Y project that would attract customers because it was quick to assemble and it’s purpose was useful. By blending something old and familiar (toy chest or storage box) with something new and exciting (building and designing it yourself) - he met the customer need and the store purpose.

LESSON TWO:

Customize your marketing. Publicity builds awareness but marketing builds action. So when Tana created a hand-print station with a myriad of colors for children to palm-personalize their own toy chest - she created must-haves for the parents. And when Alex brought out letter stencils to paint their names with colors and flowers - they continued to generate sales activity. They gave a boring product charisma and warmth drawing people to the clinic and sales to the registers.

LESSON THREE:

Beauty can be a beast - especially if you think it will exempt you from bad behavior. Admitting to her task absence, she felt her good-looks were the only defense she would need. She dumped on her teammate Chris for his tobacco habit and then onto The Donald for following advice from loyal Carolyn and George. Erin’s unwillingness to help her team and using personal attacks and insults as a way out caused Trump too see beneath her beauty to her inner beast which took from the suite to the street.

Next week, it’s 3-on-5. Expect a team-balancing trade and more great lessons. Stay tuned.

Mr. Whitehead is a consultant specializing in workstyles and career advice. E-mail your questions and comments to [email protected]

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