Start an ice cream truck business by following these 10 steps:
You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your ice cream truck business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Check out our How to Start a Business page.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening an ice cream truck business?
Your biggest expense will be the ice cream truck itself. This typically has a minimum cost of $10,000, but fancier models can run to twice that cost. The truck must be insured, which can cost between $800 to $1500 every year. One of the attractive things about the business is that you can acquire your starting stock of ice cream for as little as $500 and simply order more as needed.
What are the ongoing expenses for an ice cream truck business?
The ongoing expenses for an ice cream truck business are very straightforward. The primary expense is gas—to be completely safe, allot a budget of three dollars per gallon of gas and determine how far you will drive each month in order to get a reliable estimate of monthly fuel costs. You must also restock your ice cream, which should cost no more than the initial $500 (though you will order more as necessary, so periods of booming business may necessitate restocking more often).
Who is the target market?
As mentioned previously, your preferred clients will be children. In fact, most of your route research will focus on finding where and when large numbers of children will be.
How does an ice cream truck business make money?
The ice cream truck business model is simple: you sell clients ice cream and receive payment. Due to the nature of the business, most of the payments you receive will be in cash. However, devices such as Square allow you to take debit and credit card payments if you so desire.
How much can you charge customers?
While the exact amount will vary by region and exact product, you can typically charge customers between one and four dollars for the different products you sell. Higher priced items are those involving licensed characters, those considered premium or gourmet products, and those that are offer a greater quantity of ice cream. Some ice cream trucks will sell quarts of particular ice cream, for example, in addition to the typical selection of popsicles, ice cream sandwiches, and so on. You may consider adjusting prices based on season, such as making ice cream cheaper in the Fall, Winter, and Spring, and more expensive in the summer.
How much profit can an ice cream truck business make?
In one survey of average yearly profits, vendors were bringing in about $5000 a month and working about twenty days a month. Your own profit will have several variables, however. This includes how many days you work and, as mentioned above, how many rivals you have in your area. And, obviously, the longer you work, the more profit you make: your willingness to work long days during the summer or long into holiday weekends (when more children are free to buy ice cream) will dictate how much money you make.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Ways of making your business more profitable includes adding new routes and/or changing to more profitable routes, adding hours you work, adjusting the times that you visit certain neighborhoods, diversifying the products that you sell, and even just driving slower through your chosen neighborhoods.
If you do happen to live in a highly populated area, consider expanding by leasing or purchasing another truck and hiring additional help. Over the long term, growing your business like this could double or triple your profits.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Ice Cream Truck Business Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your ice cream truck business is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.
Open net-30 accounts
When it comes to establishing your business credit, net-30 vendors are considered the way to go. The term "net-30," which is popular among vendors, refers to a business credit arrangement where the company pays the vendor within 30 days of receiving goods or services.
Net-30 credit terms are often used for businesses that need to obtain inventory quickly but do not have the cash on hand.
Besides establishing business relationships with vendors, net-30 credit accounts get reported to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.
Recommended: Read our guide on the best net-30 vendors so you can start building business credit now, so you never have to worry about cash flow in the future. Keep in mind that poor cash flow is the #1 reason businesses fail!
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate an ice cream truck business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
As an ice cream truck operator, you will need licensing from a local health department by passing a health inspection. In addition, you can expect that your ice cream truck will be randomly inspected by the local health department on a regular basis. Inspections will check for compliance with local health laws, typically related to prevention of food contamination.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
Additional local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply. For more information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
- Depending on your location and truck build and size, your local department of motor vehicles may require you to obtain a special type of vehicle registration.
- It is advisable to have a comprehensive insurance plan, covering your vehicle, equipment, and any employees, as well as to be aware of parking and zoning requirements when operating your business.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
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How to promote & market an ice cream truck business
One unexpected way of marketing and promoting your ice cream truck is social media. This allows you to engage with the community, advertise routes and prices, and possibly offer unique discounts and promotions. The most traditional marketing, however, comes from the truck itself. This includes pleasant songs the truck plays that are familiar to children. Also, be sure that the ice cream truck has bright colors and eye-catching designs in order to be noticed by as many people as possible.
How to keep customers coming back
Promoting your business on social media, playing catchy music, and decorating your truck with bright colors are all great ways to attract new customers. In order to retain the customers, it is important to have set routes that you drive on set days so that you can establish regular customers. You may also consider punch cards or other promotions where repeat customers can eventually receive free ice cream as a reward.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use.
Recommended: Find the best phone system for your business; check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2021.
Start An Ice Cream Truck Business In Your State
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Is this Business Right For You?
An ice cream truck business is good for those who can handle periods of solitude, as you will likely be the only one working this business. You must also be good with children, who are your primary demographic. Finally (if obviously), you should be someone who loves ice cream, as this will help you sell your wares to customers.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at an ice cream truck business?
The primary daily activities of an ice cream truck business are exactly what you'd imagine: most of your day will be spent driving different routes and selling ice cream. Other activities include ordering and storing ice cream as well as researching the best routes and delivery times to maximize your business.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful ice cream truck business?
The essential skills of an ice cream truck business, driving and vending, are actually very basic. However, certain skills can help you build your business more quickly. This includes previous experience as an ice cream vendor and a background in something like business or management. If you have an existing relationship with local organizations and businesses where children congregate (such as schools, churches, youth clubs, and so on), it will help you more quickly discover optimum delivery routes.
What is the growth potential for an ice cream truck business?
While the exact growth potential for ice cream truck businesses has not been quantitatively researched, businesses such as artisanal ice cream and food trucks have experienced slow but steady growth in the last decade. The exact potential for your own business will depend greatly on your local area—for instance, whether there are any/many rival ice cream trucks or standing ice cream vendors in town.
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Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting an ice cream truck business?
One good tip is to research the best routes ahead of time and then work them every day. As with any other business, regularity helps. That makes it easier for regular customers to find you at a certain time of day and buy your ice cream. Being friendly and talkative to customers also helps to establish a relationship with them—this is important when you are selling to close-knit neighborhoods that value relationships. Finally, don't forget to have as much ice cream variety as you can get—we are in a golden age of food and customers can sometimes be very picky.
How and when to build a team
Unless you intend to build a fleet of ice cream trucks, this is a business that is traditionally operated by a single person. This is typically considered one of the advantages of this job, as it keeps your overhead low and removes the need to manage and coordinate other employees. If you do have enough money to acquire an additional truck and supplies, and you feel there are profitable routes that you aren’t currently covering on your current schedule, this would be an ideal time to expand your business and hire an additional driver.