Some call it the greatest music event in the world. It’s certainly one of the most famous. From Wednesday, more than 135,000 people will descend on Glastonbury for five days of live music, hedonism and outdoor living.
These days, the Somerset festival is big business, generating £35 million worth of sales last year alone. But small firms keep much of it running, whether providing food, drink, or other elements of infrastructure.
And it’s not the only entertainment gig in town. The festival scene in the UK has boomed in the last 15 years, with more events taking place each year. Big promoters are behind many of the best known events, but there are also plenty run as small businesses. And entrepreneurs are constantly coming up with new ideas about what the public wants, how to keep people entertained, and the best ways to get them to spend their cash.
The recent growth in the independent festival scene in the UK has been enormous. And, while there are events focussing on meditation, food, and even crime writing, music remains the big draw for many people, and the main purpose of most events.
- In 2000, there were fewer than 100 music festivals in the UK, excluding Northern Ireland, according to research by the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF). By 2014, this number had mushroomed to about 1,000.
- About 6.5 million people attend music festivals or gigs each year, a study for Visit Britain found, accounting for £2.2 billion worth of spending. About 24,000 full-time jobs are created by this type of music tourism.
Smaller occasions now exist catering to every taste – the Green Man in the Brecon Beacons for folk-influenced indie and rock; Blissfields in Hampshire, which seeks to highlight unsigned bands; or the Maverick Festival in Suffolk for those who prefer a little country, roots music, and Americana. And many small businesses move from one event to the next throughout the year, setting up stall to sell their wares and follow the party wherever it goes.
For The Love Of Money
There’s clearly profit to be made from the festival crowds. Even once they’ve stumped up for their ticket, the spending doesn’t stop there. They’re a captive audience, stuck in one place with the need to eat, drink, sleep, and wash – one hopes. And they’ve often got a holiday spending mentality, which means they’ll make unplanned purchases of T-shirts, knick-knacks, music, even massages or temporary tattoos. All of these are opportunities for small firms providing on-site goods and services.
The Festival Awards (FA) celebrates the best of Britain’s festival events and it’s analysed punters’ likes and dislikes, what they tend to spend their cash on, and how much. Their most recent report found the average festival-goer spends £130 once inside an event, with nearly £19 being the average daily food budget, while £24 goes on alcohol. But the festival crowd is more demanding and sophisticated than was the case 20 years ago. The FA survey found customers expect the following from drinks concessions at events:
- Discounts on group orders of six drinks or more – plus a wide selection of drinks, beers, and wines.
- Free public Wi-Fi at the bar and phone-charging points.
- Easy payment by debt or credit card or even by pre-loaded wristband.
They may be picky, but the reality is people have also got more money to spend than in the past. More than a third has an open budget when they go to a festival, while a fifth typically exceeds the amount they meant to spend. This can mean it’s worth entrepreneurs giving people something extra.
Hit The Road, Jack
Some canny business owners have set out to exploit those with deeper pockets and refined tastes by offering ‘glamping’ experiences in tipis, yurts, treehouses, and gypsy wagons. The recent trend for street food has also lent itself perfectly to the festival scene, with vans selling pulled pork sandwiches, Mexican street fare, and Goan curries now seen in fields across Britain. Boutique event Festival Number 6 in Portmerion, Wales, even offers Michelin-starred long table banquets for attendees. It’s all a far cry from the traditional festival experience of a few days spent in a soggy tent, surviving on greasy burgers and pints of snakebite.
But whether you’re providing vegan food, designer wellies or somewhere comfy to sleep, small businesses serving the festival circuit have the hassle and cost of packing up and transporting all of their gear from site to site. They’ve also got to have the right permits – from their local authority as a food business, for example – plus public liability insurance. Many events venues will also require risk assessments and health and safety checks. Combined with being away from home for large periods of time, it’s a lot to take into account before choosing a life – partially – on the road.
We’ve Only Just Begun
Then, there are the SMEs who run the show – and setting up a new festival is far from easy. Organisers have to attract interest from the public, which involves heavy marketing across all types of media, both old-fashioned print and broadcast – the FA study showed 85 per cent of festival-goers respond to posters and outdoor adverts, with radio ads also being very popular – as well as new social media channels. But to drive ticket sales you need to sign up recognisable acts – a particularly hard feat at a time when there’s so much competition for live performers, with some of them commanding sizeable fees. Then, you may debate about whether to find sponsors for the event. Plus, there’s the cost of providing fencing, security and stewards, parking, and, of course, toilets and washing facilities. It all adds up.
When it comes down to it, many people are in the festival business because they love music – or books or beer or whatever the event’s theme may be – rather than from a desire to make money. Even the godfather of festivals, Glastonbury only made a profit of £764,000 last year on those sales of £35 million. It’s a large amount by most standards, but surprisingly low considered the scale of the event. Some festivals don’t make any profit at all, while others still are forced to cancel due to poor ticket sales, too much competition or bad weather. But if music is your passion, you have boundless energy and you have a head for business as well as a love of partying, then festivals could be a great way to earn a crust. Even if it’s often only a meagre one.