Trumped at the Altar

The ninth installment of this season's The Apprentice promised love in the air. With Kevin and Ivana emerging unscathed from the boardroom a week earlier, Chris was tagged as project manager for Apex and took Kevin, Ivana, and Jennifer outside to discuss why he was so down on his own team.

In a more upbeat frame of mind, Mosaic settled on its leader by the luck of the draw: Kelly won.

All nine remaining players were summoned to Central Park's legendary Tavern on the Green restaurant, where Donald Trump explained that weddings are a $30 billion-a-year industry. Sure, Trump is probably good for about a billion or two of that, given his own serial nuptials, but he instructed each team to create a four-hour bridal shop sale. The team with the largest profit at the end of the day would win.

Weddings are big business. Two months ago our Rule Breakers newsletter singled out online jewelry retailer Blue Nile (Nasdaq: NILE  ) as a stock recommendation, in part because it has been able to sell 50,000 engagement rings.

Mosaic had a huge advantage. Not only did it have one extra member, but it also had its not-so-secret weapon: Sandy -- who ran a bridal shop. Her insight proved to be invaluable, but it was her suggestion that they get a hold of TheKnot.com (OTC BB: KNOT) to market their sale to area brides-to-be that proved to be worth its weight in gold.

While Apex eventually recovered from a slow start, signing up at least a half-dozen vendors, the team failed to promote the event effectively; their marketing campaign consisted exclusively of handing out flyers at Penn Station during rush hour. Yes, the foot traffic was there, but a specialized market like this required more precise targeting.

Mosaic was able to send out an email to 23,000 recently registered brides-to-be from TheKnot.com. While Maria apparently forgot to attach a phone number to the virtual pitch, it worked anyway: Mosaic found a line stretching down the block before its bridal shop opened. Apex's effort only pulled in two women waiting to check out the bridal wear.

Sink or swim? Chris and Apex sunk and stunk. The team sold just two dresses, netting a profit of $1,060, while Mosaic sold 27 discounted and discontinued dresses, netting a profit of $12,788. So while Mosaic was rewarded with a $50,000 shopping spree at Graff Jewelers, Trump had an easy call in sending Chris and his pessimistic attitude home.

Rick: Man, did Apex blow this or what? Your one and only audience is specific. It's women who have been recently engaged and are looking for that perfect dress for that perfect day. This is an emotional time -- did you catch the teary-eyed mom as her daughter was trying on one of the dresses? -- but it's also one where, if your aim is true, the pocketbooks open wide. Beyond TheKnot.com -- a company which I actually like quite a bit and wrote about earlier this year -- they could have contacted iVillage.com (Nasdaq: IVIL  ) or Martha Stewart Omnimedia (NYSE: MSO  ) , each of which has active forums and content for fiancees. I know that and I have never been a bride. Maybe it was too late to put an ad in the appropriate wedding announcements section of the New York Post or New York Times (NYSE: NYT  ) , but the online world never sleeps. I think it was Wes who called marketing in this task "mission critical," and he was absolutely right. Dayana, didn't you write about weddings recently?

Dayana: Always a wedding writer, never a.... oh, never mind. I sure did. I also worked with TheKnot.com and wrote a few articles for its new site for newlyweds: TheNest.com. (Tim, care to take the financial compatibility quiz with me?) The online marketing blitz was brilliant. And that line at the entrance definitely generated some shopping buzz. It was all smiles in Mosaic's showroom.

Tim: It's definitely a day when you don't want to be dealing with someone with a hard edge. Last night alone, Chris may have set a new Apprentice record for swearing on camera.

Dayana: There were more bleeps in the first 15 minutes of the show than during a live 3 a.m. Andrew Dice Clay pay-per-view performance on a subway platform.

Tim: Did you also notice how uncomfortable he was out pitching bridal stores with Jennifer? He said it was an impossible task. Maybe. But his attitude sure didn't help.

Rick: It's a shame that Raj got fired a week earlier. I could have pictured him here trying to talk all of the bridal customers out of tying the knot or at the very least running off with him for one final fling.

Tim: Or maybe he could have supplemented the bridal show with a few tuxes and offered his unique bowties to the grooms-to-be. By the way, did anyone else think they should have played "Here Comes the Bride" for Melania when she greeted Mosaic at Graff? After all, they've been playing that silly gladiator theme for Trump.

Dayana: "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" or "I'm in the Money" would have worked, too.

While a poll in our active Trump's Apprentice discussion board has our fellow Fools torn about who will win it all, who's stock do you think has been rising in recent weeks?

Rick: I think that Kelly, Andy, and Jennifer -- and this week, Sandy -- all have that special spark. I used to think that Kevin had a shot, but he's been making way too many boardroom appearances lately.

Dayana: Mosaic started with a bull's eye on Andy's forehead. If they hadn't won, I think he would have been toast. Sandy sparkled on this task, but she has such a niche expertise. Wes was feckless (and reckless behind the wheel) and Maria spent a lot of time trying on dresses instead of dressing mannequins. The previews hinted that it might be Jennifer who gets fired next week.

Tim: I find it hard to believe that Trump would actually have fired Jennifer like he said. What did she do wrong? Uh, how about nothing. In fact, she bailed out Chris during the bridal shop visits. I still think Kelly has a good shot, but everyone still underestimates Andy. Also, much as I hate to say this because I think she could have been fired long ago, Ivana has now survived five boardrooms. Those who think that's a liability don't remember how many times Kwame got called before Trump last season.

Until next week, suite dreams.

Click!


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