A festival of fun

ToyNews takes a look at the commercial advantages of pitching up at family festivals.
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These days there are a few family-friendly festivals on the calendar. Glastonbury, Camp Bestival, Lollibop and Jolly Day Out at Hampton Court all have something to offer both parents and kids.

Camp Bestival, located in the grounds of Lulworth Castle in Dorset, drew a crowd of 30,000 this July. In every corner of the 220-acre site there are things for kids to do and see, like storybook readings, Punch and Judy shows and circus performances.

The entertainment line-up blends the likes of Blondie, Groove Armada and Primal Scream with Dick and Dom, The Gruffalo and the ZingZillas, so there’s something for everyone, whatever their age.

When parents take their kids away for a weekend they're going to bring spending money. And when you let thousands of kids loose in a field you’re going to need some toys to keep them occupied.

For Firetoys, an internet retailer and supplier of circus toys, a festival represents a physical retail opportunity without the commitment that comes with a High Street shop.

Firetoys stocks a welcome supply of juggling balls, diabolos, devil sticks and outdoor toys for kids to get their hands on.

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A regular festival trader, Yann Waterson, co-owner of Firetoys, says: "At a festival we get to be in a busy High Street for a short amount of time. This is important to us as we get to speak to our customers face to face, which we can’t do running a website.

"It also allows the crew to have some fun - running a busy warehouse can be quite stressful so it's a great opportunity to get some sunshine, have a few beers and watch some great bands while working."

It's not all sunshine and profit, though. The great British festival has a reputation for inclement weather and when it rains, playtime is over.

Waterson says: "If it rains a lot at a festival it’s pretty much a guaranteed loss. If it's too hot people seek shade and don’t shop as much. If our pitch is moved to a far corner, sales plummet and if the organisers put us right up against a stage then when it becomes crowded our customers can’t get to us. If other non-food stalls turn up nearby we end up sharing the available spend and if another circus stall is on site then the earnings can be halved."

That’s a lot of variables to consider, especially when a weekend pitch can cost "as much as £2,000", depending on the festival, Waterson reveals.

"We end up selling lots of the budget ranges, which is good, but margins are quite low so you need lots of sales to reach breakeven point. You also end up spending lots of time teaching kids the skills, which is fun but also very time-consuming."

It’s a long-game strategy - Firetoys pitches up at between 15 and 20 events per year, attempting to absorb the loss-making weekends with profitable events to come out on top before the festival season ends.

Smiffy's was at Camp Bestival as official fancy dress sponsor and also partnered with T in the Park, which saw the Scottish festival's fancy dress day rebranded as Smiffy's Fancy Dress Friday.

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Kate Bond, marketing manager at Smiffy's says: "We first got involved with festivals in 2010 and were the official fancy dress sponsors of Camp Bestival in Dorset and Bestival on the Isle of Wight.

"Our main objective is to raise consumer awareness of the Smiffy's brand; these two festivals are fancy dress-focused and the fit was perfect to start bringing Smiffy’s to the forefront of people’s minds when searching for their festival dress-up."

For dress-up companies, internet sales are increasingly important as consumers turn away from fancy dress shops in favour of quick-and-easy online purchases.

"By directing consumers to our 'where to buy' section on Smiffys.com we are able to include our trade customers in these huge dress-up occasions and make sure people are seeking out the Smiffy’s brand," says Bond.

But what is it about the festival crowd that makes them a such a desirable target audience?

Roger Martin, director at the games and puzzles firm Coiledspring, puts it best: "At festivals, people are more open to trying new activities and they also tend to be influencers rather than followers."

Coiledspring will partner Just So Festival this August. Held on the outskirts of a forest near Staffordshire, Just So Festival also has plenty of children’s activities, entertainment and toys. It’s even equipped with a dedicated breast feeding area, so it's as family-friendly as it gets.

Placing an emphasis on play rather than retail, Martin adds: "We see this as a chance to actively engage with parents and kids, and generate a buzz about our new games."

For brands like Peppa Pig, Rastamouse and the ZingZillas, festivals are the perfect place to develop relationships with fans and their parents during the school holidays.

All of the above are on tour this summer – but while the likes of the Stones, Bob Dylan and Britney Spears make millions of bucks from performing live, for acts like the ZingZillas it's completely about brand building.

Stephanie McLernon-Davices, commercial director for the ZingZillas' licensor BBC Worldwide says: "They don't do jungle photo ops, or meet and greets or walkarounds or anything like that. We've managed them like JLS or Take That, to see what kind of relationships pre-schoolers can build with characters.

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"With the ZingZillas we've ensured that all of the marketing strategy is about the performance."

She adds: "We're looking at something like 600,000+ people over the summer months who are going to watch the band perform, which is the biggest national marketing campaign that I've ever worked on. Just to have that level of impact will be amazing. It's another way for us to monitor how immersed kids are in the brand."

For both traders and brands, festivals provide an alternative to traditional forms of retail and marketing.

A relaxed environment where you can reach both parents and kids is a rare thing and the fun times had at these events stand to last long in the memory. 

If those experiences involve your product or brand, it could be great for business.

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