Start a petting zoo 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 petting zoo. 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 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.
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.
Who 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.
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.
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.
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 Petting Zoo 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 petting zoo 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 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:
- 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.
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:
- 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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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 A Petting Zoo 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?
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.
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 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 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 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.
Not sure if a petting zoo is right for you? Try our free Business Idea Generator and find your perfect idea.
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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 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.
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.