Start a zoo business 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 guide to starting your zoo 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 a zoo business?
The costs will all depend on what types of animals you have and the land you use. You’ll need to pay for their food and care, as well as staff to maintain the grounds and run concession stands around the park. It’s not unusual for a park to spend $10,000 to $12,000 per day (or more) just to keep up with costs, plus millions more on elaborate exhibits. That’s a tall order for anyone.
What are the ongoing expenses for a zoo business?
Ongoing expenses include veterinary care, license renewals, ground maintenance, and staff salaries. They'll also need to add and maintain exhibits throughout the years. Successful zoo professionals will look for any excuse to save money . For example, they may use roadkill to feed their animals as long as it doesn't endanger their safety.
Who is the target market?
Families are usually the largest market, but zoos are truly made for everyone. Even in a down economy, parents will always be looking for things to do with their kids, and zoos are a relatively affordable and fun activity for all.
How does a zoo business make money?
Zoos make money from both ticket sales and donations. There are plenty of wealthy benefactors that want to do their part to protect animals. Luckily, the majesty of certain species is usually enough to inspire people to give to your cause. However, most zoos are nonprofit as their mission is focused on the welfare of animals. They will often rely on city funding as well (which is unfortunately subject to change.)
How much can you charge customers?
Zoos can charge based on their size and demand. Just one adult ticket to the San Diego Zoo is $54 for adults and $44 for children. Plus, owners can charge for a variety of experiences, including special breakfasts or animal shows. These special endeavors can easily add on an extra $30 to $50 a day without deducting very much from the overall budget.
How much profit can a zoo business make?
While most zoos are technically non-profits, they can make enough money to generate sizable salaries. However, on the whole, zoos have been cutting back on their exhibits as of late — even as they continue to raise the price of admission. This is due to inordinately high bills and cuts in city or donor funding.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Zoos have been steadily adding attractions like water slides or other types of rides for their patrons. These attractions are not only fun, they also allow owners to raise the cost of admission without threatening ticket sales.
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 Zoo 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 zoo 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.
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.
Federal Business Licensing Requirements
It is important to abide by all federal and state regulations regarding the ownership of exotic animals. Before starting a zoo, make sure you and your business have met all licensing and ownership requirements.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a zoo business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state 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:
- 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.
Certificate of Occupancy
A zoo business is generally run out of a large piece of land. 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 zoo business.
- 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 zoo business 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 zoo business
Considering families are the primary market, it may make sense to stick with children-focused advertising on television or the radio. Again, it’s pivotal for owners to find a need that isn’t being filled. For example, maybe you hire animal handlers who can tell jokes as well as inform them about the animals. Maybe you feature animals that families can’t find at a competing zoo.
How to keep customers coming back
Customers come to the zoo to have a good time — not to be saddened by the state of our world. Owners can work in a message of conservation without the doom and gloom. Animals need to look well cared for, cages need to be clean, grounds need to be spotless, and concessions should ideally be delicious. Visitors should feel as though there’s a sense of logic or a theme to their wanderings (e.g., grouping all of the African mammals together.)
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.
Start A Zoo 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?
Zoos are excellent for those who love animals and want to protect them from environmental dangers. The idea of the attraction is to pass a love of planet Earth down to younger generations. However, zoos can be incredibly expensive to run, meaning an owner will need to have a knack for business.
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 zoo business?
Zoos are notorious for being chaotic, so owners may have to pitch in on any or all of the following tasks:
- Acquiring animals
- Administering husbandry
- Managing staff
- Planning the budget
- Assessing sales
- Complying with city regulations
- Liability insurance
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful zoo business?
Those who have a history of veterinary work or a life science background can use those skills to build their success in this industry. Zoos are extremely labor intensive, so owners should have at least worked or volunteered in an existing zoo to understand exactly what they’re jumping into. Resourcefulness is often the biggest factor when it comes to how successful a zoo can be.
What is the growth potential for a zoo business?
Most larger cities will have a zoo, which can pose some very stiff competition. However, there is room available in even the most seemingly saturated of markets. Owners who look for an animal niche or an angle that hasn’t been filled (or a forgotten part of the country) to grow their business.
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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 zoo business?
Most people would never consider starting a zoo because it's a lot of work without a very good chance of a reward. Few entrepreneurs could find the money (or the space) to compete with established zoos in large cities that have managed to build up decades of experience and public recognition.
And yet, there are things an owner can do differently in order to attract a public audience. For example, San Diego not only has their famous zoo, but they also have a Safari Park. In a Safari Park, the animals are all roaming on open land rather than hanging out in exhibits, and customers are given rides throughout the grounds to see animals in a slightly more natural habitat. By tweaking the format a little, the Safari Park has managed to become a hit destination alongside their incredibly impressive zoo. Residents of San Diego and business experts alike may not have been able to have predicted its success.
Those who are just getting off the ground with their zoo may want to consider something on a smaller scale. They may want to contact professionals who handle exotic animals and talk to them about the best ways to both protect them and share them with the public. Owners may want to start off with a mobile enterprise in smaller towns in order to establish themselves.
How and when to build a team
You will need to build a team immediately. No zoo can even begin without having enough licensed vets and caretakers to administer daily feedings and to handle emergencies. Owners should hire people who have plenty of professional experience working with unusual or foreign animals. This will not only keep the animals safe, it will also lower the cost of your liability insurance (or at least, make it less likely you'll ever need to use it.)