Do you have a business that you think would go down well at festivals? I asked four such entrepreneurial types, with ventures in T-shirts, vintage tents, gourmet coffee and holistic massage – about their experiences as festival traders. Is it a combination of fun and profit, and are you guaranteed enough time out to catch a favourite band? One seasoned festival trader and three relative newbies tell their stories.

Vintents campfire at festival

Harry Collett lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire and together with his father, started boutique tent venture, Vintents (retro canvas tents), which began trading this year. They recently finished their successful inaugural stint as festival traders at Deer Shed Festival in North Yorkshire


How did you get started?
Harry: I had worked over previous summers in the boutique camping scene. I’d seen how big it is growing, and the demand for it. So together with my father, we started collecting canvas frame tents from the 1970s and early 1980s. My dad has a passion for them. It has to be said, they aren’t easy to track down. They’ve been stowed away in people’s garages and sheds, and finding them in good nick has been hard – we’ll only take them if they are in good condition. But we’ve managed to accumulate around 25 now. We’re lucky in that we’ve got a real old-school repair workshop near us in West Yorkshire, and we’ve been able to get the stitching re-done and zips repaired.

How did your first festival work out for you?
It was really successful. We did it pro bono, as a try out and to test the market. Delighted to say that everyone was pleased with how it went. We did Deer Shed Festival and they used the tents for VIPS – John Grant’s musicians and manager were amongst those who stayed in them, they loved them. And the festival ran a competition with the prize being one of our tents for the festival – they enjoyed it too.

So what’s the next step?
We are already on the phones, seeing if we can sell the idea to more festivals. When we started, most had already got their plans sorted for 2015 and weren’t looking to start on 2016. Now we’re back from Deer Shed, we’re looking at 2016.


Deer Shed tents

What about costs? And storage?
We had a storage facility anyway, so we’re able to use that. And we borrowed a caravan to transport the tents to the festival. Obviously we’ll have to look to hiring a van as things build up, and eventually perhaps buy one, but we’re not at that stage yet.

Did you get to see any of the bands, or was it all work?
Yes we saw lots! Our hardest work is before the festival setting up, and at the end. During the festival, we always made sure that someone was on hand and able to sort out problems, but it’s the sort of business that allows us to have time out to enjoy it too.

In the 1990s, Simon Jones and his partner created Mental Peace, a clothing company, in Amsterdam. Glastonbury and Womad were just two of the festivals they traded at regularly. 

Why did you decide be a festival trader?
Simon: We started selling at festivals from the word go, because this was the only marketing strategy available to us without investing a lot of money. As we started this thing from scratch with no finance, we didn’t have too many options. We started with small local festivals, where we sat with a table that we built from scrap wood and cheap tarps and this evolved into a proper structure later on. We spent many nights at dance parties selling a few shirts for not much money. At the same time we were developing relationships with retailers and getting our shirts into a few shops around Amsterdam.
I heard about your amazing customised van…
It was an old Transit van that could take seven people and all of the stall equipment and stock, so needless to say it was loaded to the max and it was probably overloaded. The customisation was in the back, where I installed a suspended floor so we could put all the steelwork (about quarter of a ton) for the stall under the floor, thus allowing us to get it out without unloading all the stock and gear. That way we could build the tent without everything else getting soaked because more often than not it would be raining when we got to the festival. After the tent was constructed and everything was unloaded into it, the floor frame would swing up on hinges and turn into a shelving unit attached to the side of the van, using the floorboards as shelves. The whole thing worked in reverse as well, so that everything could be loaded up with the tent the last thing to go in. Not pretty, but functional.
Which festivals did you go to?
Glastonbury, Womad, Guilfest, The Glade, and T in the Park. Also a number of festivals in Holland and Germany.
Mental Peace festival traders
Did you enjoy the experience?
We always had a couple of workers so we had a crew of four. Unless it was busy, two was enough so with a bit of planning and discussion we did a roster each day so everybody got to enjoy the festival. We usually closed up early on Saturday night and went out for a party which usually went all night. Of course it was a lot of work as well. Setting up would be a really solid day of work  with all hands on deck. Knocking down at the end of the festival was the same, but in between it was just a matter of relaxing and selling some shirts and doing the daily stuff you needed to do around the camp. It did get quite full on with the weather sometimes and it could get to be a bit of a drag when you have a clothing store and potential customers are covered in mud.
How did it work out financially?
Coming from Amsterdam did occur extra cost, but on the other hand we were in the rather comfortable position of not actually needing to turn a profit. A lot of traders have the festivals as their only form of income, so a washout can be a disaster. For us, it was more a case of turning over stock and getting our name out there as well as having a good time. Having said that, we did have a very good product so the worst we ever did was break even and we had a couple of times that we really made a killing.
What did you especially like about the festivals?
The feeling of community amongst the traders. You would see the same crew from festival to festival and the kids would look forward to seeing the kids of the other traders and they would hang out together and enjoy the festival in their own way.
Simon relocated back to Australia and is no longer co-running Mental Peace.

Chris Kingshott started his gourmet coffee company, King Shots, a mere 12 weeks ago. Chris, from Cheltenham, has already done his first festival and there’s another on the horizon

What made you want to start a coffee company?
Chris: When I was younger, I went travelling and ended up in Australia, where I learnt to be a barista and absolutely loved it. The place I worked was serious about their coffee, and I developed a passion for it. Earlier this year a friend here at home was selling their coffee van. I decided it was the right time to go for it, so I bought the van, rebranded it and bought all the equipment.

Kingshotts coffee, festival trader


So how are things progressing?
I was lucky as my first booking was a private event for restaurateur and presenter Pru Leith at her house, and I had an incredibly positive reaction from everyone.

You started as a festival trader earlier this year, how did it go?
I started a bit late for this year’s festival season but I did Rovin’ Fest in Cheltenham, which was a great experience and I learned a lot. The atmosphere was really good and there was great camaraderie amongst the traders. The next one I’ll be at is Stroud Fringe [free family festival]. The plan after that is to compile a database of all the festivals, and email hundreds of them for 2016.

How are you finding the expenses for festivals?
A lot of them want the money up front. Then there’s insurance, PAT testing on electricals, and hygiene rating.

Kingshotts coffee van festival trader

What coffee do you use?
It’s a special roast, roasted for Green Bean Machine in Cheltenham. I tried lots of coffees before selecting this one. Obviously this venture has to make money, but it’s about more than that, this is something that is my passion. Every coffee we make is freshly ground to order, and customers can have it however they want. I get the beans every week to make sure they are at their freshest.

Are you a seasoned festival goer?
Yes, I used to go to the Isle of Wight, and 2000 Trees. I love the atmosphere and I knew I’d enjoy working at festivals.

Nina Milburn is a professionally-trained masseuse and has been working at festivals as “Massage for Wellbeing” for three years

Massage therapy by festival trader

What kind of therapy do you offer?
I offer holistic massage, it’s is designed to improve your mental and physical state, which is why my professional name is “Massage for Wellbeing”.

 How do you structure your day at festivals?
At WOMAD I offered 30 mins or 1 hour full body treatments, or what ever area the client wants me to focus on in the time (often shoulders and back and legs). At Glastonbury, I offered 15 or 30 minutes, as it allows more people to have a chance to sample a treatment and they often do not have the time to spend a whole hour when there is so much music going on. I’ve also done massage for people with disabilities at both festivals, which I found very rewarding as I manage to relieve some pain for the clients during the festival.
What about all the paperwork?
As a massage therapist you need to have insurance – and that covers you for festivals as well.  I am also a member of the Federation of Holistic Therapists.
Clients aren’t exactly at their most fragrant after a couple of sweaty days in a tent. How do you cope?
To tackle the issue of unwashed bodies I use lots of baby wipes to clean off the mud if necessary!
Do you enjoy working at festivals?
I really enjoy it, it’s so different from the usual massages I do at home. It allows me to work with such a wide variety of clients and has given me an opportunity to gain more experience. It’s a great way of meeting loads of interesting people and, especially at Glastonbury, the Healing Fields had such a strong community where I learnt so much about other treatments and complimentary therapies.
Festival trader Nina Milburn's card
Are you a seasoned festival goer?
I have been going to festivals all my life with my family, and after doing the massage course thought it would be a great way of going to them each summer, and a way of making some money at the same time.
Do you get time out to see much music?
During the days I am often fully booked, however I am able to book out time if there is something I particularly want to see. I have the evenings off as well so I can enjoy the music and entertainment.
Nina Milburn –
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