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How to start an ice cream shop or truck

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Editorial Team

5 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.

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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 trying to get your ice cream business off the ground.

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 shop 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:

  • A business account with your local bank
  • Business licenses to sell goods in your city, including any food safety certifications
  • Permission to drive along approved routes
  • Insurance policies (including vehicle coverage for your truck)

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 will be running a brick-and-mortar ice cream shop, you’ll need to find a physical space to buy or lease. If you will be opening 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;1 but expenses can  approach $1 million if you decide to purchase land and build a free-standing location.2 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.

5. Get paid

The next step involves setting up a 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:

  • Print advertising
  • Social media
  • Email campaigns
  • Creative branding

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.

Let us help you get started

When using the best POS system 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.

The steps outlined in this blog post are 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.

1 “How To Start An Ice Cream Shop,” Starting Your Business.com, 16 May 2021
2 “Starting a Business,” NICRA

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