Starting an ice cream cart business is a great idea to earn high profit since the barriers to entry are small and the demand is never-ending.
Here’s what you need to do to set up an ice cream cart business:
- Sort the legalities
- Research your target audience and competitors
- Map out your route
- Source your ice cream cart
- Map out a business plan
- Sort out vendors and inventory
- Get the permits and licenses
- Approve health regulations
- Market your business
- Get insurance
An ice cream cart business is a smart choice because even if a particular location isn’t generating any customers, you can always change the route of your ice cream cart.
If you want to start a successful ice cream cart business, this article will give you a step-by-step rundown of how to set it up from scratch.
Basics To Start Your Ice Cream Cart Business
Figure the Rules and Regulations
Before you start your ice cream cart business, you need to find out about all the rules and regulations that an ice cream vendor needs to follow.
Every state has a different set of rules and regulations, so you need to comply with all the state, country, and municipal laws to operate a legal ice cream cart business.
You need to obtain a general business license and register your business entity with federal state, and county tax authorities.
However, there may be some other municipal laws you need to follow in your area.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) is a good resource to research more about how to file for licenses and permits.
Decide the Kind of Ice Cream You Need to Sell
For your ice cream cart business, you have to take some time out and decide which ice cream you want to sell since your choice of ice cream will impact your whole expenses, inventory, your route as well as your target market.
Every ice cream cart sells different kinds of ice cream. Most traditional ice cream carts sell ice cream novelties, while some sell soft-serve ice cream or even frozen hard ice pops.
Going for ice cream novelties is a popular choice since it only requires space for a freezer and doesn’t require ice cream serving equipment since it’s prepackaged.
This naturally makes managing and keeping track of your inventory an easy task.
On the other hand, selling soft serve or hard ice cream is much more profitable since this kind of ice cream has many variations.
For instance, the price of your ice cream can vary per scoop, toppings, combinations of flavors, cup or waffle cone, and many more.
All of these will make your ice cream cart more appealing to your customers. Moreover, you can even decide to sell prepackaged ice cream alongside your hard or soft-serve ice cream.
If you decide on selling soft serve or hard ice cream, then you will have to invest more in equipment.
» You can also read my post: What’s the Markup on Ice Cream?
Franchise or Independent
After deciding what type of ice cream you want to sell, you have to decide if you want to open an independent business or buy into an already existing ice cream cart franchise. Both these options have different advantages.
If you plan to buy into an existing franchise, it can give you the advantage of stepping into an already successful business.
An already successful franchise will instantly give you brand recognition and a customer base so you won’t have to work hard to gain customers.
However, you would have to follow the complete guidelines of that franchise and won’t get to decide things for yourself.
On the other hand, starting an independent ice cream cart business from scratch can give you the advantage of being your boss, hence you won’t have to be answerable to someone else’s guidelines.
Plus, the initial startup costs will be lower but there would be a lack of brand recognition so you will have to work hard to gain a customer base.
Research Your Target Audience and Competition
Researching your target audience is crucial because a business’s success depends upon it. Plus you also have to keep your competitors in mind so you can bring uniqueness to your ice cream cart business, and attract more customers than them.
Research your target audience by making a list of all the locations your ice cream cart will operate in.
Make a list of street vending locations. This list can include areas that are mostly occupied by families such as parks, shopping centers, beaches, fairs, as well as festival locations.
You should also research any catering opportunities for private events or parties in your city. An ice cream cart can attract a lot of customers at company picnics, community get-togethers, festivals, fairs, parades, fundraisers, etc.
Going to all these private events can boost your brand recognition and offer you more opportunities for the future.
Secondly, research your competitors by analyzing who sells ice cream in the area you want to sell in. Visit the site and see how they operate their business.
Pay attention to detail: the vendor’s attitude, what things they are doing right/wrong, what you can do better, and what kind of ice cream they are selling.
Doing this will help you plan your ice cream cart in a way that it stands out among them.
Plan Your Route
Every ice cream cart has a planned route that they travel on daily bases. Ice cream carts mostly decide on a route that is nearby schools, parks, music or sporting venues, or street food areas.
If you want to park your cart somewhere you will have to see which areas allow street vendors.
Planning your route after proper research is essential as some municipalities are pressured by parents or homeowners to restrict ice cream carts from operating near their schools or parks.
While some also restrict the ice cream cart music in their area.
Make sure you plan a route that is profitable, legal, and not full of other ice cream carts.
Buy Your Ice Cream Cart
After all the planning, you have to buy your ice cream cart which is the key part of your business. An ice cream cart is super easy to maintain and has low costs.
You can buy a brand new ice cream cart from Unique Vending Cart for $2000 to $4000. You can even find some used ice cream carts in the market for even lower prices.
However, keep an eye out when buying used ice cream carts since people sometimes sell defective ones.
There are different types of ice cream carts you can get, you get a cold-plated ice cream cart, a refrigerated one, and even an ice cream cart tricycle. Each type of ice cream cart has different prices.
Map Out a Business Plan
Now that you have decided on most aspects of your ice cream cart business, you need to map out your initial business plan to start operating a successful business.
Writing this will give a more clear perspective and direction of your business as well as prevent you from making wrong decisions about your financial aspects at the beginning of it. Your business plan should cover the following aspects:
#1 Vendors and Inventory
Ice cream and novelties are readily available in the market so you can easily shop around to find these items at the best-suited price.
Look out for commercial vendors who can provide you with the best possible profit margin on your inventory.
If you run out of ice cream and need to refill your inventory at the last minute you can even purchase treats and other supplies from your local supermarket, although this option may not be cost-efficient.
However, it is a good last-minute option if the customers are buzzing in on a hot summer day.
Apart from this, you will also need a separate freezer to store all your inventory. You can either leave your cart freezer switched on all night or buy a separate freezer to store all your inventory in.
» Read my blog post: How to Buy an Ice Cream Truck?
#2 Permits and Licenses
There are certain permits and licenses that every business must acquire to legally operate in their city. Before you start operating your ice cream cart, you need to have a business license. You can contact your local country office and apply for one.
You might need a street vendor’s permit as well to sell food on the street. Moreover, to buy the inventory at a wholesale price, you will also need a seller’s permit.
The permits and licenses vary from state to state, so make sure you acquire all your necessary required permits and then start operating. If not, you can be fined or even shut down permanently.
#3 Health Regulations
Apart from the permits and licenses a food vendor also needs to meet all the requirements of the local health department of their state.
Research the regulation of your city’s health department and apply for the necessary certifications and permits.
If you’re selling soft-serve ice cream, you will also have to meet the food handling regulations by the local health department.
These certifications can only be gained after a thorough inspection by the health inspectors of the health department.
So make sure you meet all the health codes, keep your freezers operating at the right temperature, and make hygiene your priority.
Insurance is crucial for every business, insurance keeps you from bearing all the damages in case of any sudden accidents. You need to have liability insurance and business owner insurance.
You also need to have insurance for your ice cream cart. Moreover, if you’re planning to hire employees, you also need worker’s compensation and disability insurance.
The amazing part about an ice cream cart business is that it provides you with a bit of advertisement every time you go down the street with it. This is due to the music and the cart’s decoration.
If you design your ice cream cart with fun and appealing visuals/colors, it will attract more customers. You can also design some attractive flyers and menu cards to market your ice cream cart business further.
Lastly, use social media to your advantage, create a handle for your business where you can advertise it, and write all the details of your routes and products.
People can even reach out to you for their private events through social media.
Starting and operating an ice cream cart business is a lot of work but if you plan it right and have the right resources it’s not only profitable but also a lot of fun.
Once your ice cream cart starts earning a good income, you can buy another cart and create a franchise of your own. You can use this guide to kickstart your ice cream cart business. I hope this article helped you.