Thursday, February 17, 2005

Trailer Trash for The Apprentice

Alex The Entrepreneur writes that he likes to watch The Apprentice because, like me, he finds himself thinking of so many alternatives to their lame decisions on the show.

Once again the kids are asked to invent a business for a day on the Feb 17th show. They have $5000 to work with and the winner is based on revenue, NOT profit. I am mystified. This is so simple, it's dumb. Psst, hey buddy, pay $4000 to come into my trailer and I'll give you a $5000 plasma TV. Boom, one customer, and $4000 revenue that easily blows away $900 earned by selling manicures. One big ticket item might be hard to move. How about a crate full of iPod minis for $200 each instead of the typical $250?

Not fair? OK then go for talent. Hire an artist like Peter Max for $5000 to work in your rolling art studio. Roll it up to some art auction or art school, have him paint an original oil on canvas and sell it on the spot to the highest bidder. You'd get more than $900 for a pencil sketch on a napkin by some artists. In fact, just sell autographs and pictures with any celebrity you can hire. You can't tell me this is any different than hiring a casting director for $1000.

Even simply selling hot dogs and Coke at a loss would have netted more than $1000 revenue in a day. Make the trailer a little cafe with a takeout window. Undercut every nearby sidewalk vendor or just pay them to go away.

How about selling sweat incidental to the trailer? Start a moving service. Move an office across town or even a nearby state. Sure, the business uses the trailer but the real value is 6-7 people who will pack and move everything for you.

For goodness sake, spend some money on promotion. Buy some radio spots to advertise your casting call or at least call some radio stations and try to get on the air for free. Call some acting schools. Call some talent agents. Call somebody! I'm honestly shocked they were able to find 40 people willing to pay $25 just by grabbing them off the street. At least park the trailer in front of a talent agency. By the way, is anybody else wondering how Net Worth came up with a $991 total when they were selling meetings at $25 a pop?

The problem is that none of these businesses are sustainable. Net Worth won but their revenue ($991) was less than their recurring costs ($1000 salary). Even Magna's concept probably can't sustain the salaries, insurances, fees, gas, promotions, and other recurring costs associated with a mobile spa. If I were Donald, I'd calculate the winner based on rate of return AND I'd factor in the salary of 6-7 people. Nothing else makes sense.

When faced with starting a business, I'm immediately drawn to the highest profit margin ideas. Those are always pornography, gambling, and liquor (or drugs in general). In this task, porn and drugs are probably not legal, so I'd find a way to make the gambling thing work. Setup a mini casino inside the trailer. Pick up people in NY and bus them to Trump's casino in Atlantic city. Use the time on the road to teach people how to play games using professional dealers. Sell it as a Break the Bank run. Either get people to pay for the ride and the coaching or better yet, get the casino to give you a kickback for transporting their high rollers for free. You might get players interested in a new game like craps or baccarat. The casino would love you for it.

By the way, if I was Bren on this task I would have really played the too-close-to-call angle. This hasn't flown with Donald in the past but come on, Net Worth won by 7% or less than 3 customers. That's dumb luck, not skill. It could have easily fallen the other way. As it turns out, Bren did a brilliant job defending himself without my advice. Still, I don't think he will make it to the end. This game favors the quiet performers. Keep your eye on the players that haven't been PM yet and haven't been in the boardroom. Contestants that stick out their neck always regret it.


  1. As to your break the bank business, I dont think it is legal to transport people in an Airstream.

  2. Bob may be right about trying to actually transport people in a trailer. I thought about that but I'm not sure what the law is. Obviously that might throw a kink in the plan.

  3. The lack of promotion by both teams made me scratch my head. They both must have feared that the cost to renovate the trailers would take up the entire $5,000 start money. Also, your suggestions of other business are great, but they had to have been ineligible types listed on the task's rules. This season's contestants are not as good as the past seasons, but they can't be that dumb not to think of a hot dog stand.

  4. "they had to have been ineligible types listed on the task’s rules"

    Are there published rules other than what Donald said on the show? I saw rules for each task in season one but nothing since then.

    Looking at the show again, it sounds like Donald specifically says "a service" business. That probably disqualifies reselling electronics, but moving furniture and transporting people is certainly a service. A hot dog cart is arguably a food prep service.

    How about a shoe shine business? This is what Craig does for a living so I'm surprised it didn't come up. Using my $5000, I'd hire 50 guys at $10/hour to shine shoes at $1/pair (an easy sell). Each shiner only needs to average 1 customer every 20 minutes to gross $1200 over 8 hours and win the task handily even though I'd be losing money by the minute.

    How about "Shine & Dine"? Sell a $5 shoe shine and provide complimentary bagel & coffee or pizza & soda while they wait. Park the trailer in front of a deli and get permission to give away a shine with every bagel purchase as long as they process the sale through your business. What deli wouldn't love that? Their customers get free shines (if they want them) and you get credit for every one of their sales.

  5. Mobile Billboard Business

    Hey Joe Parking-Lot-Owner, I will pay you $5000 for exclusive rights to park my billboard trailer in your lot for one day if you agree to rent my billboard for $4900 (wink wink).

    Presto, $4900 in revenue and all I have to do is sit around with a sign on my trailer for a day.

  6. I found the task dossier links. Here's Task 5.

    Looking over the rules, it still seems like the billboard business would qualify though we are lacking detail about how the seed money may be allocated. Clearly some of it could go toward salaries. That makes the shoe shine business viable.