Two years ago, I interviewed four festival traders, click here for the original piece. The feature has proved popular so I decided to do an update in order find out how those fledgling vendors 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.
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 4×4 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!
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.
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.
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.
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 5 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
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.
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.
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.