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How to start up: retailing at a festival

  1. Festival
    Francois Badenhorst

    Francois Badenhorst Deputy Editor Staff Member

    Posts: 86 Likes: 16
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    Probably one of the first examples we have of food stalls are in Ancient Greece. Vendors sold small, fried fish, seasoned in a fermented fish sauce that the Greeks called garos.

    The Romans got in on it, too. Poor Romans frequented these food stalls because their shoddy tenements didn’t have hearths and ovens. Archaeologists even excavated the remains of food vendors among the ruins of Pompeii.

    The recurring theme in the ancient world was that these weren’t exactly profitable or decent professions. The food was cheap and simple. It’s a stark contrast to the golden age of food stalls and street food we’re experiencing right now.

    Take your average festival: you will be able to find a cornucopia of food and alcohol vendors, each one with its own specific niche and differentiator. For UKBF’s many small food and drink vendors, these festivals have become an attractive and potentially lucrative option. It’s some distance from the food and drink stall’s deeply unglamorous origin.

    But how just how do you nab a pitch at a festival? And what kind of hoops would you need to jump through?

    The consensus on the forums is that festivals present a fabulous business opportunity. But it’s also tricky to secure a nice spot at a desirable festival. As Phenoptix explains: “The potential for making money is massive, but I think the pitches are very hard to get and certainly cost. As far as I know, there is a very long waiting list and there is pretty much a one in one out system.

    If you do nab a sales spot, though, he writes: “The potential sales are fantastic, but it depends on the festival.

    “Festivals like V are packed with polite people with crisp £20 notes, Reading and Leeds are a bit more earthy, there's a bit more trouble and a few more ‘characters’. That too is part of the fun. Taking 20 minutes out of selling burgers to fight with customers using the ketchup and mustard are part of the festival work experience. Depending on how you want to work you may want more than one employee as no matter what you pay them they'll want to see some bands.”

    So if you do want to try and get a spot at a big festival, you’ll need to make contact with the event company running the event. “This will often be somewhere on the bottom of the event’s own website page,” writes Alex Paterson. “They will be able to give pricing and details.”

    If you do manage to nab a place, then the stock will be a key consideration. InsaneBoarder234 did the calculus for Download Festival: “With the numbers, I’ve managed to find there’s anywhere up to 100,000-120,000 people who could potentially come across my stall (campers and day ticket holders).

    “If even 5% of these were to buy from me that's 5,000-6,000 sales and to deal with that I'd need to take a car full of stock. On the other hand, if I did manage to get a space at a bigger festival then the stock wouldn't be as much of a problem as the increased sales volume would easily cover everything.”

    But it’s not just about the big events, though. The UK has sprouted numerous smaller festivals. The pitches at the big festivals are money spinners, but the smaller festivals aren’t to be sniffed at. Shambala, for instance, is a family-friendly festival in Northamptonshire that draws about 7,000 attendees.

    Small festivals are also more selective in terms of the food and drink they want at the festival. Shambala has, since last year, gone all vegetarian. If your stall has some unique twist then it’s absolutely worth searching whether there’s a festival that’s geared towards it.

    Okay, so what're the bureaucratic hurdles?

    A Summer festival might conjure a beautiful image of flower crowns, glitter and tins of cider - but that’s reserved for the attendees. A festival’s retailers have a few hoops to jump through.

    There are the basics, like if you’re handling food. Pete Hendry explains: “A food licence is required for any food handling. All it is is a food hygiene certificate and allowing your local council around your van to make sure you are equipped for food.

    “So hand wash basins, fridges (don’t forget the hot sun at festivals), cleaning areas and cleaning materials. And least of all fresh running water.”

    Alcohol, always a bureaucratic minefield, is a little trickier. “The rules for different festivals would be up to the local licensing authority and the festival organisers,” says Scalloway.

    Whatever the rules, you will need a temporary events licence, writes Pete Hendry. “It’s similar to premises licence from the local council permitting you to sell alcohol at the event. This is just a formality at festivals as they are expecting it.

    “It’s all depending on what has been agreed with landowner, council and suppliers/promoters. The landowner usually doesn’t care as long as everything is cleaned up at the end. Councils may put curfews on music/alcohol timings due to surrounding factors.

    “But they may also give 24hr licence. The kicker is suppliers and promoters. The big companies tend to pay big bucks to have exclusive rights to sell a brand an event. Doesn’t mean there isn’t room for the little guy but it comes down to some negotiation with the organiser and they will want their cut too.”

    The event organisers and the event itself will have its own preferences, too. As mentioned earlier, Shambala only caters veggie food. Green Events Company, that organises numerous events, gives explicit preference to stalls that are environmentally friendly (biodegradable plastic, for instance). It’s a case of checking the website/phoning the organisers.

    Anand Mavani organises a small festival called Hogsozzle. According to Mavani, even for smaller festivals like his, there is "a significant amount of paperwork is required".

    "From logistical planning on pitch sizes to power grid mapping, then we have the health and safety element, food standards checks and local health authority paperwork and assessments to manage."

    "This is also alongside our own risk assessment and food quality auditing. And that's just the paper trail. We then have the marketing of the food vendors to our punters, the amalgamation and integration into our wider marketing activity is really critical to their success. We have to go through pricing and balancing against other food vendors to make sure that we are offering bespoke and tasty dishes across the board. The on-site management is another area that requires a lot of resource."