How to start an ice cream shop or truck

Editorial Team

7 min read
Woman at ice cream truck

As the saying goes, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” If you’re passionate about America’s favorite summertime dessert, it’s understandable that you’d be interested in learning how to start an ice cream truck or shop.

However, there’s a fair bit of legwork involved before you can sell that first cup or cone. This free guide outlines some of the most important steps and considerations when starting an ice cream business.

1. Plan your business

Business planning is a broad term that encompasses many aspects of launching a startup. You may end up with a formal, written business plan that you’ll present to investors and banks. At minimum, the process of mapping how to start an ice cream business should include factors such as:

  • What kind of ice cream you plan on selling – e.g., artisanal versus soft-serve versus vegan
  • How much demand there is for your offerings. For brick-and-mortar shops, foot traffic is key. With ice cream trucks, having the right route or parking location matters.
  • How much you expect to spend and earn – including careful thought about the impact seasonality might have on profits.

2. Become a legal enterprise

If you feel your ice cream business could fill an under-served niche, it’s time to start the paperwork – a process that involves applying for:

Becoming legal also means being able to pass occasional food inspections from health officials. Before you can start selling cones, you may also need to register with the local tax office.

3. Find a location

If you’ll be running a brick-and-mortar ice cream shop, you’ll need to find a physical space to buy or lease. If you’ll be starting an ice cream truck, you’ll have the flexibility to change locations easily, as you park along any number of approved routes.

In both cases, however, the goal is to find options that receive plenty of foot traffic during the busiest times of the ice cream season.

4. Source equipment and supplies

Starting an ice cream shop or truck can cost as little as $50,000 upfront, but expenses can  approach $1 million if you decide to purchase land and build a free-standing location. These expenses stem from the cost of equipment needed to start an ice cream shop, including:

  • Batch freezers
  • Hardening cabinets
  • Soda fountains
  • Soft-serve dispensers
  • Shake machines

Brick-and-mortar shops will also need to pay for rent, utilities, countertops, and furniture. Ice cream truck owners need to invest in vehicles, music, amplification equipment, and long-term storage to keep unsold inventory cold overnight. Leasing this equipment may be cheaper than buying it outright. You can also help cut costs by acquiring used equipment whenever possible.

In addition to these big-ticket ice cream shop startup costs, there are many ongoing expenses. Ice cream is the most obvious example, with some entrepreneurs buying batched product from suppliers and others purchasing ingredients to make their ice cream in-house. Don’t forget about the bowls, spoons, cones, and toppings used to serve each customer.

If you have the resources to finance your startup, you won’t need investors or loans. If outside funding is important, read our guide on starting a small business.

A real-world example: Holy Rolly Charleston

LaToya Gardner and her husband started their ice cream truck business, Holy Rolly Charleston, after working in corporate jobs for more than 15 years. Both ice cream enthusiasts, they were looking for more flexibility in their careers and decided to go all-in on starting an ice cream truck business. 

Their product is unique and especially flavorful. The rolled ice cream they make from scratch only uses three ingredients — milk, cream, and sugar — which keeps their baseline inventory simple. Then they incorporate a mix of fresh cobblers, cakes, and pies to create a variety of flavors.

The pair experimented with a wide range of locations, including private events and corporate lunches, to test out their local market. The truck did big business in residential neighborhoods when restaurants were closed during the pandemic, and now that dining out has resumed, Holy Rolly Charleston does best at family-friendly events and music festivals

Social media has proven the best marketing tool, since their rolled ice cream photographs especially well. Customers tagging the business on social media has helped Holy Rolly Charleston attract enough local attention to expand with a second truck. 

5. Get paid

The next step involves setting up a POS system that can securely process in-person payments. Although a cash register can help in some situations, being able to accept a broad range of payment types will help allow you to move more supply.

For example, our ice cream POS solutions can handle physical cash, credit cards, debit cards, gift cards, and contactless mobile payments. Whether you choose a countertop POS solution for your brick-and-mortar shop, a portable credit card reader to process payments on the go, or online ordering capabilities for deliveries and curbside pickup, all incoming sales benefit from the latest in PCI-compliant payment technology.

6. Spread the word

Once your payment environment is set up, it’s time to launch a marketing campaign to announce that you’re open for business. Both brick-and-mortar shops and ice cream trucks can benefit from:

It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on local sporting events, concerts, and birthday parties since these allow you to tap into ready-made markets.

A real world example: Walrus Ice Cream

Walrus Ice Cream has been serving up frozen treats to people of Old Town Fort Collins, Colorado, since 1987. An already-popular mainstay of the community, Walrus Ice Cream was able to increase its yearly revenue by 28% when it switched to Clover in 2014, by speeding up its flow of foot traffic and creating connections with loyal customers. 

Using a Clover POS system turned payment processing into a breeze at checkout, freeing up staff to chat with customers while they wait in line, creating an even stronger connection to the shop. The ability to quickly and easily accept all payment types at the counter sped up the flow of business and got ice cream into people’s hands faster.

Rewarding loyalty is a smart strategy for any business, and especially one that already has a well-established reputation. By utilizing Clover Rewards, Walrus Ice Cream was able to thank regular customers for their support with discounts and special promotions. 

Integrating Clover into your ice cream truck business from the start can help streamline operations like sales, inventory, and customer rewards so you have more time to focus on developing your product and connecting with the community.  

Let us help you get started

When using one of the best POS systems for ice cream shop sales to help power your business, you’ll have a much easier time “scooping” the competition and attracting new customers.

Choose from a range of POS solutions, including the Clover Mini, Station, and Flex. In addition, our solutions come with detailed business reporting, loyalty program management, and a host of other tools to help streamline your operations. To learn more about our complete range of payment services and business management solutions, schedule a free consultation with our merchant services team today.

This information is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, financial, or tax advice. Readers should contact their attorneys, financial advisors, or tax professionals to obtain advice with respect to any particular matter.

Popular Topics

Recent Stories

Please share your contact information
to access our premium content.