Owning an ice cream truck is a super fun way to earn supplementary income. While you may think you can just buy a used ice cream truck and start making money selling frozen treats, it isn’t quite that simple.
Operating an ice cream truck is a small business, just like owning a store or restaurant. You need proper licenses, permits, and insurance to start selling legally. The start-up costs can also be higher than you think, so it is crucial to have a solid business plan before diving in.
This article will discuss how to start an ice cream truck business, including business licenses, inventory, and equipment. We will also cover strategies to maximize profit and build a brand.
Tips for Starting an Ice Cream Truck Business
There are some obvious considerations when running an ice cream business, but you need to be aware of them before you start. For example, running an ice cream truck is a seasonal business in most regions. The summer months are by far the most profitable, and earnings during the off-season may not be worth it.
Hours are also tricky, as operating during school hours will severely lower profits. Plan to operate during the best opportunities, including holidays like the 4th of July, and try to maintain a consistent schedule, so regular customers know when to expect you.
Planning Your Business
Unfortunately, starting an ice cream truck business isn’t as easy as buying a truck and some ice cream. You need a way to keep your products cold and ready to serve, as well as handle the business side of things, including operating plans, licensing, and merchandise.
Come Up With a Name
To properly run an ice cream truck, you will need a business name to operate under. You can check social media and web domains to see if your idea is taken before filling out paperwork and printing decals for your truck.
Decide on Ice Cream Selection
Next, you will need to decide what to fill your ice cream truck with. Picking ice cream to serve is fun, but there may be more options and considerations than you are expecting. Pre-packaged ice cream requires only a commercial-grade freezer, while soft serve and shaved ice need special equipment. Think about what will work best in your market and what the competition sells.
The truck is the most expensive part of starting a successful ice cream truck business. Regular automotive prices are high as it is, but finding a specialized ice cream truck in good shape can be a challenge. Another option is to buy a suitable vehicle and convert it to an ice cream truck, which has its own difficulties. The average cost for a used ice cream truck is $15,000-20,000. You will need another $500 for ice cream products, as a minimum.
Vehicle maintenance, gasoline, and the cost of restocking will be your primary ongoing expenses. Ice cream trucks won’t get the best gas mileage, and if you do a lot of driving, it can add up. The type of products you serve will also vary in price and possible maintenance of machines. Calculate the cost of gas and the cost of ice cream, including how often you need to pay those amounts, for a reliable business expense schedule.
Find Your Target Market
Sticking close to home can be convenient, but you may have more success in other neighborhoods or by rotating destinations on a regular basis. Another good idea is to post up at parks, beaches, or other places with a lot of foot traffic to save on gas. Just be sure you are following local regulations about where you park your truck and make sales.
How Much Will You Charge?
You should sit down and crunch the numbers about pricing before you start advertising costs on your truck or online. It isn’t enough to simply upcharge products from your supplier; You need to factor in your time and the ongoing costs from above to ensure you will be profitable.
Choose the profit you want to make per hour (your wage earnings), calculate the number of items you will sell on average in an hour, then subtract the cost of products, gas, and maintenance for an idea of the markup you need on each sale.
Brainstorm Marketing Strategies
Operating an ice cream truck is a business just like any other. Having a website, social media presence, and print marketing can all help raise awareness about your company and increase sales. Of course, the signature ice cream truck music is one form of advertising but think about other ways to make a profit, like renting your truck out for parties.
Plan Your Route
This will be something you optimize over time as you learn the patterns of loyal customers and local events. Before getting started, plan your route according to the time of day, neighborhoods, and your desired operating hours and track the results. For example, running your ice cream truck from 9-5 during the school year may not work well since much of your clientele will be in class. Plan when and where you will have the best chance of encountering customers looking for a treat.
Choose and Purchase Your Ice Cream Truck Equipment
Buying an existing ice cream truck will save you time and money, as it should include everything you need to get started. However, due to availability and your needs, you may need to make modifications to suit your needs. Here are some examples.
Ice Cream Freezers and Machines
In some cases, all you need to convert a vehicle to an ice cream truck is a commercial chest freezer to keep your products cold and food safe. This is especially true if you simply resell individually packaged frozen treats. There are many ways to transport and power freezers in an automobile, though having them inside a typical ice cream truck design is the most effective and recognizable.
You will need additional appliances to offer specialty treats like soft-serve ice cream or shaved ice. This may require additional power sources and creative mechanic work to set up this type of equipment in a vehicle, which isn’t cheap.
You should also consider what else you need to run your mobile ice cream business—everything from cups and ice cream cones to spoons and sanitation equipment. Consider what you would need to serve those options in an ice cream parlor or restaurant, then figure out how to fit them into your truck.
Research Vendors and Strategize for Inventory Storage
A major factor when deciding what to serve might come down to suppliers. If you can get a reasonable price on individually packaged products, that is the simplest way to go. However, if you have a good source for soft-serve ice cream or could increase profit margins with shaved ice, consider the long-term benefit of that investment.
Research vendors to make sure they have good reviews are reliable, and try to get a contract for pricing so things don’t change unexpectedly.
Form a Legal Entity
Since you will be running a business that serves food, you will need to follow many of the same guidelines as a restaurant. This includes health inspections, business licensing, and commercial vendor permits to sell in public spaces. Be sure you follow all local laws to form your business entity and operate your ice cream truck legally.
Register for Taxes
Your business will also need a tax ID, so register for one and speak to an accountant if you need to. You may be obligated to track all earnings and submit tax returns quarterly.
Taxes for Small Businesses
Again, operating an ice cream truck means you own a small business. Check with your local chamber of commerce and research your small business requirements.
Open a Business Bank Account With a Credit Card
Business accounts can make tax time much more manageable. Consider signing up for a business credit card and bank account to keep finances separate. You can also take advantage of cashback or credit card point reward programs when buying stock and making other business purchases!
Collect All Required Permits and Licenses
As stated before, necessary permits and business licenses for operating in your local area will vary. Check online or with your local chamber of commerce to find what you need. You will likely need to visit your local health department and the Department of Motor Vehicles before you can get started.
Florida Licensing Requirements
For federal guidelines, check out the U.S. Small Business Administration website. For state business licenses in Florida, visit the Florida Department of State Division of Library and Information Services. For local laws, check with your county clerk in person or online.
Acquire Business Insurance
You’ll need auto insurance for your ice cream truck and possibly additional business insurance. Check with your local chamber of commerce and online to learn exactly what you need as a minimum in your area, or speak to an insurance agent to help you decide the best plan for your ice cream truck business.
Define the Brand of Your Ice Cream Truck
You don’t want to be just another generic ice cream truck. Branding your business will help you be recognized and improve your chances of loyal customers. This is especially important if you serve a specific frozen treat that the competition doesn’t offer.
Promote and Market Your Ice Cream Truck Business
With a name on your ice cream truck business forms, website, social media account, and a strategy to make your ice cream truck recognizable, you’re ready to start marketing your brand. Consider running print and digital ads in your market area broadcasting your name, contact information, and what you have to offer. Word-of-mouth marketing is also important for a mobile business, so consider investing in branded cups or similar merchandise. You should also ensure your truck is easily recognizable and have business cards ready.
Set Up Your Website
Your website should have dietary information about your products, contact information, and even your schedule, including special events. This allows potential customers to access all relevant information in one easy place, including allergies, where to find you on your daily route, and how to call you for requests and event invitations.
Operating an ice cream truck is a unique business with unique considerations. Here are some tips and ideas you may not have thought about.
Learn from other business owners
Since ice cream trucks tend to have their own areas and routes, competition tends to be friendly as long as you aren’t interfering. Join groups and forums where you can share tips with other ice cream truck owners willing to share their wisdom.
How and when to build a team
If you don’t have the time to run your ice cream truck during peak hours or are having trouble sticking to your schedule, consider hiring ice cream truck drivers. After all, the investment in the vehicle and equipment isn’t making you any money sitting in your garage! You may also consider investing in another truck if the business is booming!
Embrace Social Media
Social media may seem like a strange place to promote an ice cream truck business, but it is actually a great way to build a reputation and connect with local communities. Encourage your regular customers to share pictures of your truck and themselves enjoying your ice cream, and give coupons and discounts to your followers! This is also a great place to book birthday parties where you can earn easy money just by showing up!
Ready to Start Your Ice Cream Food Truck Business?
Now that you know what you need to get started, all that is left to do is start shopping for your ice cream truck. Search automotive classifieds and see what is available in your area. Try to find someone going out of business with a recently used truck that has everything you need to get started. This will save you time and money over converting a standard vehicle or an old ice cream truck that will likely need repairs.