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 and­man­ag­er 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?
We used to go to Glas­ton­bury, Wom­ad, Guil­fest, The Glade, and T in the Park. Also a num­ber of fes­ti­vals in Hol­land and Germany.


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.

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.

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

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.
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.
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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