- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2005

Episode Recap

In episode 3 of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, the two-time-loser creatives of Matchstick battled the corporates of Primarius in the ultimate bake sale—selling wedding cakes to brides-to-be. Before the pans went in the oven, it looked like a fair fight—Matchstick’s 6 remaining members faced off spatula-to-spatula with Primarius’ 8. But in the end, it was a piece of cake for the corporates, who sold five confectionery masterpieces to Matchstick’s zero. And before the icing went on this episode, Martha baked in 5 sweet business lessons that we can all taste at work.

Unless you live in an Antarctic ice cave, you know that Martha Stewart and her Weddings magazine and books are major movers in the $72 billion wedding industry. Each team had to design, bake and sell the cakes at NYC’s famous Michael C. Fina wedding registry. Lest one team forget what the contest is all about, Martha admonished both teams at the top, “The winning team will sell the most cakes. After all, this is a business.”

Howie, the Primarius team leader followed Martha’s recipe to the letter. The goal, he reminded his team, is to maximize revenues, which means designing a cake appealing to the broadest possible audience. They survey Martha’s website for popular designs, and went with a traditional square, multilayer format.

David, Matchstick’s project manager, went for a riskier niche—the avant-garde cake crowd. The creatives rang up celebrity cake baker Sylvia Weinstock. Weinstock advised that asymmetrical cakes are groovy and that pink is the “in” color. So when David assigned Mexican food chef Marcela to manage the design, she picked a goofy fishtank-like combo of offset ovals and massive pink frosting bows—a pink panzer. Dawn, Matchstick’s perennial black sheep, chose to save herself from ridicule and bite her tongue rather than advise against the wacky design.

But Matchstick’s off-center cake design was hardly problematic when compared with its utterly comic sales effort. David’s decision to put two attractive women, Bethanny and the TV newswoman Shawn in charge of selling cakes was, on the surface, not bad. But Bethanny seemed allergic to selling the team’s Buick-sized pink bow cake. And Shawn’s utter lack of conviction in selling the pink panzers sent buyers running for the exits. Despite her sour attitude about her sweet product, Shawn told Martha’s henchman Charles Koppelmann that she “guaranteed” a victory, a statement that would haunt her soon.

In a sidebar, viewers were spared more fireworks between Matchstick’s egomaniac Jim and beaten puppy Dawn. Jim’s wife gave birth to a baby daughter during the episode, which had the effect of neutralizing Jim’s aggressive spirit.

In the conference room following Primarius’ 5 cake to 0 cakewalk victory which earned the corporates the right to have dessert with Donald and Melania Trump, Shawn sealed her fate when she recounted for Martha her TV newsroom on-camera mantra—”Fake it ‘till you make it.”

Even though David picked Marcela and the team’s whipped puppy, Dawn, to face firing with him. Martha, though, disgusted more by the team’s sales effort than its cooking, overruled David and brought his whole team into the conference room to face her wrath.

Rapidly, Shawn fell under the harshest scrutiny for her slacker selling skills and “fake it” philosophy. Horrified, Martha picked Shawn to be the next recipient of a “Respectfully, Martha” termination letter. The loss of Shawn burns Matchstick down to 5 players for next week’s showdown.

Lessons Learned

Lesson 1—Never guarantee victory. Especially if you don’t believe it yourself.

Martha saw through Shawn’s false confidence faster than a cake knife through butter. “I feel like a used car salesman,” she said. And she let everyone know that she knew she was selling a lemon.

Lesson 2—Never let them see you desperate.

Bethanny, Shawn’s other sales stooge, sported a palpable hang-dog attitude that, combined with Shawn’s used-car pheromone, kept buyers away more effectively than any chemical spray. Bethanny’s sales-floor howl that “selling these cakes is giving me a nervous breakdown every minute” was the shout heard ‘round the wedding world. Martha Stewart knows that selling a $700 cake is both a matter of a great cake and confident salesmanship.

Lesson 3-Focus matters.

When Jim’s wife went into labor over the phone with the couple’s daughter, Matchstick’s resident egomaniac avoided any of his typical outbursts against Dawn or the team’s idiotic decisions. He stayed on-task, and lived to fight another day. And by staying on the show while his wife was in the delivery room, he realized what many of us already. A husband is at his peak of uselessness while his wife is experiencing childbirth.

Lesson 5- When you pick a market for your product, pick the biggest one.

Martha Stewart has made herself a cultural icon simply because her design aspirations are universal. Her admonition to both teams to go mass market was clearly followed by Primarius. Matchstick’s design choice, while creatively interesting, was commercially suicidal.

Next week’s show promises to show that finishing a task intact is even better than starting brilliantly. More great business lessons. Stay tuned.

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