By Alasdair Fowle, Partnerships Manager

I love creating and being part of delivering the Co-op experience at festivals. Seeing the priceless reactions on our customer’s faces as they walk into our electric pop-up stores and witnessing our colleagues become such a close-knit team by the end of the weekend, makes all the hard work our teams have to deliver worthwhile. 

I can’t understate the planning that goes into making it all happen, though. Our amazing teams have to really dig deep and collaborate to make the experience an unforgettable one for our colleagues and customers. And this was certainly the case recently, as we had to plan for Creamfields, Leeds and Reading – which all landed on the same weekend! 

What we do before the festival

The planning for festivals actually starts eight months before the season starts and we have both internal and external planning. Internally, we bring together teams from across Co-op to join one of three working groups: 

  • Product: the product ranges are selected, merchandising plans, product forecasts and orders, and pricing are all developed
  • Operations: we work through everything that’s needed to operate a store, from store processes and recruitment to colleague training modules
  • Marketing: we co-ordinate the marketing campaign for the year including the instore look and feel as well as PR moments and social campaigns

Externally, there’s lots of planning with our festival partners, suppliers and agencies. My team are not only responsible for the partnership rights, but we also order toilets, showers, fencing, electricity, lighting, marquees – the list goes on! 

On-site, we take control of an empty shell and start to build usually around a week before we open. We essentially have two days to fit out a supermarket into the empty shell of land. In addition to the equipment, we also install all the graphics to bring the store to life, both inside and outside the store. Along with ensuring we’re legal to trade by having all necessary signage, documentation and processes in place prior to starting to trade.

How we make colleagues feel at home 

Our colleagues enjoy a glamping experience at the festivals. We build a private campsite for our colleagues and build up to 110 tents, each with an airbed inside and segregated into three different shift areas so no one gets disturbed from colleagues on other shifts. 

The area is fenced off and has its own security guard controlling access to colleagues who have their own Co-op wristbands. We also provide showers, toilets and a portacabin with heating, fridge and electric points – so it’s really like a little village just for our colleagues. This year, we’ve added in exclusive yoga sessions – three sessions every day to allow colleagues to prepare or wind down from a busy shift in the store. Colleagues also have 24/7 access to onsite emergency contacts and there hasn’t been a problem occur that we haven’t been able to solve.

What we do to help colleagues

My team make sure our colleagues have the best experience possible. The team will be in the campsite and at the store every day ensuring colleagues have everything they need. We do a lot of things, from the mundane checking there is enough milk, to doing runs to the shops and checking in on colleague’s welfare throughout the festival.  

How we bring the Co-op experience to our customers 

Our colleagues really make the experience. The engagement our colleagues have with customers is phenomenal. Their enthusiasm is infectious, leaving our customers feeling happy and full of positivity when they leave the store.

The team is always on site and one of our main roles is to always consider the experience from a customer’s point of view. After several years of festivals, we’ve become experts at spotting anything that could impact on the festival goers experience, and the teams working in the store are brilliant at resolving anything as quickly as possible.

How we managed three festivals in one weekend

The big weekend is always tricky as our resource is stretched to the max. We have over 300 colleagues working in the festival crew across the three sites! We start even earlier for this week and we build Reading first, then move up to build Leeds then finally build Creamfields.

What we do post-festival

We take a week to build each store and two days to take each store apart. My team and I will be on site until Tuesday after each festival taking everything down and handing an empty shell back to the festival on Tuesday evening. Our full cases of ambient stock are returned to depot and the loose stock is sent on to the next festival. All our fresh and chilled stock is donated to a local food charity to ensure nothing goes to waste.

To colleagues thinking of applying next year

Do it! We have colleagues from all walks of life joining the festival crew. The colleagues join together and offer so much support and encouragement to each other, you will create new friends and contacts for the rest of your life. We know it can be daunting, but if you take the first step and apply, we promise you won’t regret it!

If you worked as a colleague and enjoyed the experience this year, let us know in the comments below! And if you’d like to read about how we’re turning plastic into fabric at festivals, click here.

Join the conversation! 8 Comments

  1. I’m working at the Isle of Wight festival at the moment and am having an amazing time. It’s an awesome feeling, relying on people you may only have just met and you form bonds and friendships that last. This is one of the best highlights of my career so far – Ali, Lois and all the fantastic team – thank you for all you do before we even get here – we’ve made memories to last a lifetime and you’ve given us the opportunity to be part of what our customers say is the best Co-op ever- buzzing 😊🎶🎡🎪🥳🏕

  2. I did Leeds Festival this year. I was a last minute replacement for someone. Ali and his team were great. I had a amazing time and loved every minute of it. Also made some great friends. And hopefully will be able to do another festival at some point.

  3. I second, third and fourth everything that had been said so far. My first festival this year at Latitude and it was an amazing experience. Ali and his team really create a brilliant experience for both colleagues and customers alike. If you are a colleague on the fence and struggling to decide, absolutely jump in with both feet. It’s hard work but it’s a great craic and you meet so many people from across the Co-op. I guarantee you’ll love it.

  4. I was lucky enough to work at both Latitude and Leeds this year. I would also be doing the IOW but for commitments at home. The experience is absolutely amazing, I loved working at the festivals and would recommend it to anyone who can apply! Ali and all of his team are brilliant – before, during & after the festivals. I cannot thank them enough for giving me the opportunity to be part of the festival crew. I made some great friends at both festivals, who I will keep in touch with, and fingers crossed I’ll see some or all of them at festivals next year!

  5. Festival weeks are the best working weeks! The full experience is amazing and the work that is put in is incredible. Well done to all involved, I always come home buzzing from it!

  6. To any colleagues reading this and thinking about applying…. You will; have an experience that you will remember and treasure, make friends with colleagues from every part of the Coop, have a blast working incredibly hard with everyone on your shift team to achieve the impossible regularly ( miracles are by all three shift teams together), feel the buzz from the music and the delighted customer comments, you will probably need to catch up on sleep afterwards and you will possibly make your colleagues back at your normal place of work envious….. so what are you waiting for? (Keith Latitude and Leeds)

  7. I’ve done a few of these and can’t recommend them highly enough. Such a great experience getting to meet and work with colleagues from all over the coop who become more friends than team mates. The work is hard but enjoyable and you are looked after every step of the way by the partnerships team. Best thing you’ll do at the coop :0)

  8. Really interesting article about the Plamning of our festivals and Reborn recycling

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