How to Start a Petting Zoo

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Our guide on starting a petting zoo covers all the essential information to help you decide if this business is a good match for you. Learn about the day-to-day activities of a petting zoo owner, the typical target market, growth potential, startup costs, legal considerations, and more!

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Start a petting zoo by following these 9 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 step guide to starting your petting zoo. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

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 initial costs?
  • Who is your target market?
  • How long it will take you to break even?
  • What will you name your business?

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you. Skip on ahead to the Business Overview for more detailed answers to all your questions.

Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your petting zoo is sued. Consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account

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.

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.

STEP 7: Get Business Insurance

Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.

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.

STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Business Overview

A petting zoo provides a space where customers can pet an assortment of small animals. Petting zoo animals may include goats, llamas, sheep, and other friendly animals. Such businesses are usually favored by children but enjoyed by clients of all ages. A petting zoo may be in a standing location or may specialize in providing animals for parties and other special events.

Who is this business right for?

Obviously, this business is perfect for those who love animals. It is also good for those who like children, as they will be a major part of your visitors.

What happens during a typical day at a petting zoo?

Part of your job involves feeding/taking care of the animals and cleaning the areas they are housed in so they are presentable. When customers arrive, you must entertain them and supervise their interactions with the animals (particularly young children). If you “rent out” the animals, part of your job will be to transport them to parties and set up their temporary enclosures which must later be cleaned and transported back. Finally, “down time” is typically spent working on new ways to advertise the business.

What is the target market?

Generally, your preferred clients are families. Petting zoos are always a hit with young children who end up bringing their parents and other relatives into the business.

How does a petting zoo make money?

Most petting zoos make money by charging a fee at the door. If you do “rent out” animals to parties and other events, that should be charged as a separate, higher fee.

What is the growth potential for a petting zoo?

The growth potential for such a business is moderate. In some areas, petting zoos are primarily a seasonal business, while they flourish year round in other places. As with many businesses, securing profitability and the potential to grow larger hinges on finding a specific niche for your region. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics sees the animal care and service field in general growing by eleven percent by 2024.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful petting zoo?

Previous experience caring for animals (such as working at a zoo, on a farm, or as a veterinary assistant) is very helpful, as is any other job experience involving animals (such as working for a pet store).

What are the costs involved in opening a petting zoo?

The cost of opening your business can vary greatly, starting with where it is located and how big it is. If you are trying to secure ten acres, for instance (a good size for a petting zoo), you might pay $20,000 (if it is all considered farmland), $65,000 (If it is considered undeveloped land), or over a million dollars (if it is considered developed land).

Similarly, if you are having to build from scratch, it can cost between $15,000 to $100,000 to create the buildings to house and display your animals. You will need to get liability insurance as well, which will likely be a minimum of $4,000. You will also need a Class “C” license from the government to exhibit animals; this costs between $30 and $300 depending on how many animals you have. The final cost to consider is the cost of the animals themselves, which varies greatly (goats alone can range between $75 to $300 per animal), and the starting salaries of your staff (which will vary based on size, but is worth budgeting at least $5,000 for).

It should be noted that if you have an opportunity to buy or lease an existing farm or other space to accommodate your animals, the starting costs may be much lower.

Where can I 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.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a petting zoo?

Make sure that you have a niche, offering something your local community does not have easy access to. Considering offering those aforementioned “extra” services, such as providing animals for parties and/or allowing people to pay for special events at the zoo itself. Finally, don't miss an opportunity to both make money and advertise your business at the local and state fairs.

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Growing Your Business

How to promote & market a petting zoo

As mentioned above, you can effectively advertise your business by exhibiting animals at local and state fairs as well as at birthday parties and other special events. You may also be able to strike up a deal with local pet stores, farm supply stores, and related businesses to advertise your animals to their customers. Otherwise, you'll want to offer a mixture of traditional marketing (such as radio, newspaper, and even TV, budget permitting) and more modern marketing (via your website, social media, and so on).

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

Attracting customers is primarily a product of the advertising methods above. You may also consider speaking at local schools and colleges to build up the interest of young people, or offering group discounts that target certain businesses, church groups, and so on. Customer retention is primarily a matter of making each customer and animal interaction feel special: be informative about the animals, as this lets customers know how special this experience is. This will make them want to return time and again.

How and when to build a team

Unlike other businesses, you will need a team immediately for this job. This is because taking care of your animals is not something limited to traditional business hours, and you will want to be able to rotate duties so you and others do not get exhausted.

Legal Considerations

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a petting zoo. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

For more information about local licenses and permits:

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.

For information about local licenses and permits:

Maintain Personal Asset Protection

Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:

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.

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.
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To learn more about maintaining your LLC's corporate veil, read our guide and protect your personal assets.

Release of Liability

To avoid liability and potential lawsuits, petting zoo businesses should have their clients sign a release of liability. Here is an example of one such form.

Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional release of liability form for your petting zoo when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.

Certificate of Occupancy

A petting zoo is generally run out of a large outdoor space. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO).  A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

  • If you plan to lease a location:
    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a petting zoo.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • If you plan to purchase or build a location:
    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your petting zoo will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

Earning Potential

How much can you charge customers?

Ultimately, your pricing should be competitive with other businesses in your area. With that in mind, a typical cost would be $10 to $20 per adult to visit your zoo, with a lower cost for children below a certain age. If you bring animals to birthday parties or other events, you may consider charging $100 to $200 per hour.

What are the ongoing expenses for a petting zoo?

The ongoing expense for a petting zoo varies based on its size, the size of the staff, the amount of the animals, and so on. A good analogue would be a small farm, which might have expenses of $5,000 a month. This goes towards mortgage (about $1,500), electricity and utilities (about $2,000), insurance payment ($500 or so), and animal food and assorted supplies ($1,000). Again, the exact amount will vary based on the size of the zoo.

How much profit can a petting zoo make?

The exact profitability of a petting zoo is difficult to gauge. On one hand, zoos in general can be profitable, with the collective non-profit zoos and aquariums in America bringing in $2.6 billion per year. On the other hand, some zoos are much more profitable than others, and there is little research about average petting zoo income. You can potentially increase your revenue by selling animals, growing and selling crops on your land, and otherwise taking advantage of the land you have access to.

How can you make your business more profitable?

As mentioned above, you can offer other services on the land you have available. Your petting zoo may also offer pony rides, for instance, and you might partner with the local 4H Club to help people store and take care of their own animals. Beyond this, make sure that you market year-round, and emphasize that a petting zoo is utterly unlike anything kids or parents can access at home. By emphasizing you are a unique experience, you can help secure steadier traffic.

Next Steps

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