With fes­ti­vals back on the agen­da for 2021, here’s a post about fes­ti­val traders from 2018…

A fea­ture about fes­ti­val traders proved so pop­u­lar I decid­ed to do an update in order find out how they are find­ing life on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit – and I inter­viewed a new piz­za ven­ture too. What works and what does­n’t – and what advice could they prof­fer to any­one think­ing of set­ting up their own fes­ti­val-based business?

Run­ning an oper­a­tion that focus­es pri­mar­i­ly on fes­ti­val trad­ing involves a fair amount of ini­tial out­lay and the sea­son­al nature calls for pre­cise tim­ings. But get it right and your hard work can ulti­mate­ly pro­vide you with a reward­ing busi­ness. Four ven­tures offer­ing bou­tique camp­ing, gourmet cof­fee, holis­tic mas­sage and wood-fired piz­za relate the ups and downs of life as a fes­ti­val trader.

A boutique camping venture

Vin­tage tent com­pa­ny Vin­tents has found a niche spot in the bur­geon­ing bou­tique camp­ing indus­try. The past two years have seen Har­ry Col­lett and his small ded­i­cat­ed team expand their col­lec­tion of 1970s can­vas tents as well as their fes­ti­val ros­ter. The com­pa­ny will be work­ing with 12 events and fes­ti­vals for 2018. 

Vintents at Port Eliot
Vin­tents at Port Eliot

So Har­ry, how has Vin­tents devel­oped over the past two years?
It’s been a real labour of love run­ning Vin­tents. Over­all, we’ve been doing real­ly well. We are expand­ing organ­i­cal­ly, which is how we want­ed things to devel­op. We feel tak­ing our time to build up a cus­tomer base is impor­tant and every year we get noticed by more events. At  Port Eliot last year we had 40 tents up, a logis­ti­cal mis­sion, but that gave us mon­ey to start invest­ing again into the busi­ness. We invest­ed in a new web­site and new brand­ing as up until then we’d been a bit home-grown. We still aren’t able to pay our­selves a prop­er wage, and it’s hard work, but we are get­ting there.

What do you think you are doing that sets you apart from all the oth­er bou­tique camp­ing busi­ness­es?
Our niche is our tents. Each tent is dif­fer­ent, with it’s own char­ac­ter and unique colour scheme. They obvi­ous­ly fit in the same style brack­et but the vari­a­tion of colour and pat­terns has proved very pop­u­lar. On top of that we offer a per­son­al ser­vice. We get to greet our campers and look after them through­out the event, it’s nice to build up a bit of a rela­tion­ship with them.

You’ve expand­ed and have built up your stock of tents to around 60. Plus you’ve added more fes­ti­vals to your cal­en­dar. Inevitably you need more crew plus stor­age space and trans­port. How have you dealt with those aspects? 
We store our tents in dry, secure con­tain­ers on a pic­turesque farm near Lewes, each year we need more space but the farmer is keen for us to grow. For trans­port, we have a Vin­tents van and hire oth­ers in when need­ed. We also have a 4x4 which we need for the next step in our adven­ture, vin­tage car­a­van hire. Build­ing a group of ded­i­cat­ed team mem­bers has been an excit­ing chal­lenge, but I believe it’s vital to the suc­cess of the organisation.

Is run­ning Vin­tents a year-round occu­pa­tion? How does the year work?
Things are full on from March when we start to get the the tents ready, water­proof­ing, patch­ing, sewing etc. Obvi­ous­ly it’s full-on dur­ing the sea­son and then, when the sea­son is fin­ished, we have to get straight on the phones and mar­ket the busi­ness full time for the fol­low­ing year. By Novem­ber our fes­ti­val con­tracts are pret­ty much sort­ed – the fes­ti­vals like to organ­ise their bou­tique camp­ing options for the launch of their tick­et sales. Over the win­ter we still need to devote a cou­ple of days each week to the busi­ness, which gives me time to play music and I do a bit of gar­den­ing work to tide me over.

What new devel­op­ments are planned for this year?
There are two major addi­tions to our line-up this year. Lux­u­ry fur­nish­ings as an option­al extra, and vin­tage car­a­van hire. The lux­u­ry pack­age includes can­dles, tables, rugs, cush­ions and fairy lights. It’s been a pop­u­lar option with our pun­ters so far, which is great. There’s obvi­ous­ly a mar­ket for peo­ple want­i­ng a bit of lux­u­ry but with­out break­ing the bank and pay­ing for a high class glamp­ing pack­age. We will be launch­ing the vin­tage car­a­van hire soon so watch this space!

vintents glamping
Vin­tents bou­tique camping

What piece of advice would you offer to any­one want­i­ng to start a fes­ti­val busi­ness?
Be patient. It takes time to build rela­tion­ships and get a foot in the door. It takes time to under­stand the time frame of fes­ti­val offices – a lot hap­pens in a short space of time, and if you miss that win­dow, you’ve got to wait a whole year for it to hap­pen again. You also have to be total­ly com­mit­ted to your new busi­ness. The oth­er thing I’d add is that the fes­ti­val busi­ness indus­try is boom­ing. There are some crazy, cre­ative things out there but you must have a niche. That’s why I think we’ve been successful.

Vin­tents are now at sev­er­al fes­ti­vals every summer

Artisan coffee stall

Chris King­shott turned his pas­sion for cof­fee into King Shots Cof­fee, and it is now a thriv­ing busi­ness. His first event was for the cur­rent queen of Great British Bake­off, Prue Lei­th – not a bad start. Chris runs his arti­san cof­fee busi­ness in con­junc­tion with a full-time teach­ing job.

Kingshott coffee at an event

How have things pro­gressed over the past cou­ple of years?
We had a good year in 2017, in fact it was our busiest ever. I’ve done a few music fes­ti­vals, and I love doing them but we’ve found our­selves pri­mar­i­ly cov­er­ing sport­ing events. Beau­fort Fes­ti­val of Polo was our busiest event, in fact in 2017 they asked us to run two stalls. We have also cov­ered a lot of car shows and pri­vate events. I’d like to do more music fes­ti­vals in the future.

What are you plan­ning for this year?
You have to do a lot of for­ward plan­ning and my inten­tion is to con­cen­trate on that this year. We have a lot of repeat busi­ness and much of it is through word of mouth, which is fan­tas­tic, but for next year I’d like us to be more proac­tive and we intend to grow the busi­ness. You have to make an effort to get in there ear­ly for fes­ti­val trad­ing – see which events you real­ly want to do and tar­get them or you can miss the slot.

Have you made any changes and tweaks to the busi­ness since start­ing?
I have made some changes so it’s eas­i­er to serve peo­ple and it’s clear­er what’s on the menu. So now we offer one size of cof­fee instead of a choice of three. I also make brown­ies as it’s good to have a food item. I used to make a choice of cakes, but now I just stick to the brown­ies. I’ve nev­er had a com­plaint yet so I’d say they are pret­ty pop­u­lar! I’ve also upgrad­ed the pack­ag­ing for the products.

How much adver­tis­ing have you done, and how tar­get­ed?
We have made our­selves more notice­able at events, we need­ed to make our­selves stand out. We have the cof­fee van, which is brand­ed, and have matched it with a colour-themed gaze­bo. We also had cus­tom flags made which stand above the tent in order for peo­ple to see from a dis­tance what we are sell­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly effec­tive at festivals.

Have you encoun­tered any prob­lems along the way?
Well since I start­ed there have been more cof­fee traders local­ly, and obvi­ous­ly this makes things harder.

What do you enjoy about being on site?
I love the vibe. It’s not just the crowds who are friend­ly, there’s the cama­raderie between all the stall hold­ers. You do swaps too, my cof­fee and a brown­ie for a burg­er which is a nice exchange!

What advice would you give any­one start­ing a new busi­ness?
Focus on your brand­ing, you need to stand out.

Kings Shots Coffee

Wood-fired pizzas

Bil­ly Prady, based in Holm­firth, West York­shire, has start­ed his own arti­san piz­za com­pa­ny called Sim­ply Wood Fired. They are about to enter their sec­ond year of trading.

When and why did you decide to run a piz­za stall and how long has it tak­en to get it off the ground? Do you have pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence? 
I want­ed to be my own boss and run my own busi­ness so, con­sid­er­ing I’ve always been into food and cook­ing, whether it just be for fam­i­ly or friends, I thought I’d go a step fur­ther and set up my own food venture. 

Ini­tial­ly I thought about a restau­rant but the over­heads and start up cost would have been a stretch too far, so I decid­ed to open a mobile cater­ing unit. I set­tled on piz­zas after eat­ing the most amaz­ing one at a fes­ti­val and thought I’d love to repli­cate that wood-smoked flavour. I’ve also worked in a piz­za restau­rant before so knew about the gen­er­al day-to-day run­ning and there­fore have this expe­ri­ence. I had the ini­tial idea about three years ago, and since then it’s been a process of hav­ing our bespoke trail­er made, gath­er­ing equip­ment, train­ing staff and research­ing the best way to oper­ate. I’ve def­i­nite­ly learnt the art of patience!

What have you got lined up for this year?
Sim­ply Wood Fired has a num­ber of food and drink fes­ti­vals lined up for 2018, a 4‑day music con­cert and we are wait­ing to hear back from some fes­ti­vals too – fin­gers crossed! We’re also plan­ning on being involved with some local events like the Duck Race and our Holm­firth Fes­ti­val of Folk. That’s the sum­mer plan… we also hope that win­ter will involve some Christ­mas markets.

Have you had to buy much equip­ment? 
In terms of one-off pur­chas­es there’s our bespoke brick oven – this was then attached to a flat bed trail­er that we bought. We’ve also got a dough mix­er, gaze­bos, fridges, ice­box­es, mobile hand wash­ing facil­i­ties, all our uten­sils such as piz­za pad­dles and ladles etc. Hope­ful­ly we’ll start to see a return on all of these this year! We’ve also got to keep buy­ing wood for our oven so we’re con­stant­ly buy­ing logs of oak and stock­pil­ing them.

How did you research the mar­ket? 
I’ve worked with street food ven­dors before on dif­fer­ent events around the UK includ­ing Glas­ton­bury, an amaz­ing if not hec­tic expe­ri­ence. A few friends have also worked with The Mac Shac, who are also based in Holm­firth, so I was able to pick their brains about the ins and outs of being a trader.

Have you decid­ed on your fes­ti­val menu?
Cur­rent­ly our menu has five piz­zas: Margheri­ta, Fire­breather, The G.O.A.T (Great­est Of All Time, a per­son­al favourite), The White Rose and The Alpine, although we’re always look­ing at new piz­zas and exper­i­ment­ing with toppings. 

We have inten­tion­al­ly kept our menu rel­a­tive­ly small in an attempt to use fresh pro­duce through­out. This also helps with lim­it­ing food waste.

Who have you been able to get advice from?

The Nation­wide Cater­ers Asso­ci­a­tion (NCASS) is an excel­lent source of infor­ma­tion. They’ve real­ly helped with some of our legal paper­work such as risk assess­ments and gen­er­al­ly pro­vid­ing us with advice on imple­ment­ing safe sys­tems for food prac­tice. They also send us texts about pos­si­ble trad­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, which is real­ly use­ful. Friends and fam­i­ly have also been more than help­ful with ideas and sug­ges­tions for how Sim­ply Wood Fired should proceed.

Sim­ply Wood Fired are also on Insta­gram and Face­book.

Find them this sum­mer at: Slice Wars, Wylam Brew­ery, New­cas­tle; Holm­firth Fes­ti­val of Folk; StrEat food fes­ti­val – Har­ro­gate; Accring­ton food and drink fes­ti­val; Hud­der­s­field food and drink fes­ti­val; Can­non Hall food and drink fes­ti­val; Nantwich food and drink festival

Massage therapy 

Nina Mil­burn is a trained mas­sage ther­a­pist and has spent sum­mers work­ing at the Heal­ing Fields at Glas­ton­bury and has also worked at Wom­ad too. Nina now works full time as an Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­pist in a spe­cial needs school for autism. She works dur­ing the sum­mer fes­ti­val sea­son offer­ing mas­sages, as Mas­sage for Wellbeing.

How was last year’s fes­ti­val sea­son for you?
Last sum­mer I did some­thing dif­fer­ent, I worked as a mas­sage ther­a­pist at refugee camps in Greece. It was a very pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence to see how much of a dif­fer­ence it made to people.

Nina massages refugees in Greece
Nina mas­sages refugees in Greece

Are you back on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit this sum­mer?
I’ve applied for a num­ber of fes­ti­vals and will just see which ones give me a spot. Of course Glas­ton­bury isn’t hap­pen­ing this year.

How does Glas­ton­bury com­pare to the oth­ers?
I love the way they oper­ate. You get your pitch for free. Peo­ple donate what they want for their mas­sage. It’s a great sys­tem because it means you are reach­ing to peo­ple who might not usu­al­ly be able to afford to have a mas­sage. Hav­ing said that, peo­ple are amaz­ing­ly generous.

How does it work at oth­er fes­ti­vals?
You pay for your pitch, it is usu­al­ly rough­ly some­where around £300-£400, some are much cheap­er than oth­ers. Gen­er­al­ly you pay a dif­fer­ent price depend­ing on the size of the pitch. My tent is over 5 metres so it can cost quite a bit. This year I’m going with a friend who also does mas­sages so we’ll share the cost – I can see lots of ben­e­fits of doing it this way.


Some of the fes­ti­vals have a dif­fer­ent way of oper­at­ing, they have a com­mu­nal mas­sage tent. Every­thing is set up for you, so they take that pres­sure off you hav­ing to bring every­thing along and set up. You don’t make as much mon­ey as they obvi­ous­ly take their cut and you work for about 5 hours a day. It’s an inter­est­ing way of doing things and also because they pay you a set fee for each day, it cov­ers you in case things are a bit slow. Although at most fes­ti­vals, you are booked up the whole day so there’s no wor­ries about things being slow.

Which method do you pre­fer?
It’s bet­ter to run things your­self, but I can see the ben­e­fit of this mod­el too.

Do you sleep in your work­ing tent, or do you take anoth­er tent for sleep­ing?
I take anoth­er tent and sleep in it, but for secu­ri­ty it’s quite good to sleep in the work tent. It’s going to work well with hav­ing some­one else to work with.

Would you rec­om­mend the fes­ti­val cir­cuit to oth­er mas­sage ther­a­pists? And what advice would you give some­one?
Yes, 100%. It’s such fun. You get to meet all the peo­ple who are work­ing at the fes­ti­val, all set­ting up. And then you get to meet all the peo­ple attend­ing the fes­ti­val. I love it. I think it’s going to work well going with a friend, shar­ing the tent with them – I think it will be very helpful.

Nina Mil­burn ‘Mas­sage for Well­be­ing’ will be at fes­ti­vals this summer.

Massage therapy
Nina at Glastobury

A big thank you to all the traders who took the time to take part in this fea­ture. Wish­ing you all a hap­py – and suc­cess­ful – fes­ti­val summer.

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