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Covid-19 took our festival trade, so this summer people are using our tents in their back gardens

Pamper the Camper founder Shane Ó Ciardhubhaín says Covid-19 blew the festival business away for 2020, so they’ve worked fast to adapt.

Shane Ó Ciardhubhaín

IF YOU WERE to ask me five years ago if I would be pitching tents in a field for thousands of festival-goers every summer, I would have said you were mad.

I was never into camping growing up, in fact, I think the last time I went camping was when I went to Feile ’91 and the tent never even got pitched. Fast forward to 2017 and I am now making a living pitching large tents in fields for summer revellers.

I was inspired to set up Pamper the Camper after a friend told me of how he walked for miles from the carpark of a festival to the campsite, laden down with supplies and “provisions” and described that he was nothing short of a sweaty ball of stress when he finally got to the only tiny patch of grass left for him to set up his temporary home for the weekend.

Parenting in a Pandemic 1 Shane says parenting in a pandemic is challenging but rewarding. Source: Pamper the Camper

Not to mention that on route, he and his girlfriend had more than a few words and were not exactly love’s young dream by the time the tent was pitched and all paraphernalia unloaded! 

The idea hit me like a bolt of lightning. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just order your camping stuff online and pick it up at the festival? A few weeks later, my wife and I set up Pamper the Camper and began trading at Body & Soul in the summer of 2016.

The whole event industry was alien to us, my background was in retail and I hadn’t been to a festival in years so the first year was a baptism of fire for us in trying to understand how it all worked and how our business fitted into it.

We are lucky that our family all work with us throughout the season. They were instrumental in formulating how the business model would work from the point of sale to the delivery on site.

How it worked

We kept our sales process very simple – order your camping supplies online and collect it from us at the festival. We also ran a full camping & festival essential’s shop over the weekend of each event. It was an amazing success for us and the promoters were delighted to have us on site as more of a welfare provider for festival-goers and an added service at their event.

In 2017 Body & Soul approached us to ask if we would run their pre-pitched campsite as well as providing the Pamper the Camper service. We had no experience in this area of event management but decided to say yes and figure out the details as it unfolded. Pitched Perfect was set up in 2017 and at our 1st event we pitched over 300 tents and accommodated over 900 people at this amazing summer festival and we have never looked back. 

XT2B8151 Source: Pamper the Camper

Since then we have become Ireland’s largest supplier of pre-pitched tents and have a presence in every major festival in the country, including Electric Picnic, Body & Soul, Forever Young and the Fleadh Cheoil, to name a few. 

This is very popular with people who want that extra comfort over the weekend. The customer can pick the accommodation package for the event on our website and when they arrive, they are brought to their accommodation by one of our team. 

Our accommodation is located in a private campsite with showers, a Pamper Parlour, Chillout area, tea/coffee facilities and is all set up and kitted out with beds and bedding, etc.

Overnight changes

2020 was lining up to be our biggest year yet. We were booked into all the major festivals and were starting to recruit our summer team. After four years of back-breaking work, it was finally going to start to pay off.   

In January the Covid-19 reports started to appear on the news. Like everyone else we thought, “sure… it will never come to Ireland. That kind of stuff only happens in the movies!”

When the lockdown started, we knew our industry was in serious trouble. All along we had hoped that the events would be just moved to a later date, but when the announcement came that all mass gatherings were to be cancelled until September, reality hit home. In just a few short weeks, everything we had worked towards achieving over the past five years had vanished. 

We were devastated. Not only for the loss to our business but for all the promoters, independent festival organisers and the thousands of people, who were working in the event industry who suddenly had no jobs.

Like all businesses affected by Covid-19 we have had to adapt and change to what was happening. We had two choices, we could take the summer off and wait for festival season to roll back around or we could use this time to move our business to an area we wanted to explore but had never had the time to do. We sat down as a family and looked at our business and what we could offer people in the current situation.

XT2B8087 Source: Pamper the Camper

Customer needs have changed

We knew that like ourselves, families were stuck at home with bored kids, and the chance of getting on a plane for a holiday was zero. One weekend, we popped one of our tents up in the garden for a sleepover with the kids and woke the next morning and realised that everyone was going to have to have a “staycation” this summer and how nice it was to be out of the house, with a bit of extra space and to do something different, even if it was for just a few nights. 

We quickly sourced a new range of “Staycation” bell tents and accessories geared towards this market. The new range has really struck a chord with people and the sales have been amazing since we launched it.

Our clients are using the tents as an extra room, not just for a sleepover, but as playrooms, home offices and for movie nights.

Source: Pamper The Camper/YouTube

Also, in response to the demand from our customers, we are looking at the possibility of providing a rental service as people are looking to hire to host family birthday parties and anniversaries at a safe distance. 

We liaise with customers every step of the way on what sort of set up they are looking for and ask: what size tents do they need? Do they need lighting, stretch tents or showers for the event? After we have established their needs, our team arrives onsite to build.

Luckily, everyone on our team lives together in the same house and the customer is advised beforehand that they are to social distance from us while we are onsite. After the tents and all other pieces of furniture have been put up we use a fogging machine that sprays a nontoxic disinfectant into the tent before the customer is allowed to use it.

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XT2B1455-2Nightnologo Shane is adapting by offering his stock for home use. Source: Pamper the Camper

These are uncertain times for us all. Every day I speak to people within our industry and the topic always turns to what the future holds and what can we do to adapt. I don’t claim to have all the right answers but I will always try to do what’s in the interest of the business, our team and my family. 

Advice for others

What I have said to people, no matter what industry you’re in is use this time to look at your business. What did you want to do but never had the time to do it? What did you want to change or do differently? What are your competitors doing? What help or training can you do or get?

Look at every aspect of your business and listen to what potential customers are saying or asking for, they may just be giving you the answer to your questions.

There is a lot of help out there at the moment from the banks and your local enterprise office who want to support you during this time. Ask for the help, you will be very surprised at what’s available to you. Festivals in the meantime will be back bigger and better. What changes if any need to happen is anyone’s guess but one thing is for sure – when they come back it will be one hell of a summer!

Shane has spent over 20 years managing teams within the retail and service industry. He holds a degree in Business Management and Customer service from the Irish Management Institute and TU Dublin. He is the founder and MD of Pamper the Camper and Pitched Perfect. Find Pamper the Camper via web, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

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About the author:

Shane Ó Ciardhubhaín

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