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The ice cream truck, a favorite for kids, has a special place in kids’ hearts, including adults. The familiar melody still sends kids running from their yards and the brightly decorated vehicle to get their favorite cold treats on spring and summer days. Its popularity makes it an excellent choice for an entrepreneur looking to invest relatively easy to start and run operation.
The business involves driving an ice cream truck through communities, selling ice cream. Not only does it come with moderate startup costs and flexibility in working hours, but it is also scalable with only an additional truck needed for expansion. Incomes of ice cream truck owners vary and are dependent on the market in which they work, product margins, and hours of work.
The IBIS world expects that the street vendors industry will experience a rebound suffered due to the pandemic. A few skills, experience, and education lend themselves to successfully running an ice cream truck and include:
- Foodservice Experience
- Mechanical and Technical Knowledge
- Strong Customer Service Skills
- Marketing Knowledge
- Management Experience
If you are interested in starting your own ice cream truck business, we have compiled this guide with 13 tips to help you start your new business.
1. Outline Your Plan and How You Envision Your Business
The first thing you need to do is envision your ice cream truck business. Start with deciding what type of ice cream you plan to sell. It is an excellent idea to do this before naming your business, as the company service may name itself. You can choose from ice cream novelties, soft-serve ice cream, or hard ice cream.
Novelties are easy as they only require a freezer, reducing handling concerns with pre-packaged items. However, soft serve or hard ice cream may be a more profitable choice. You can price by the scoop, a combination of flavors, and toppings. You can even combine the types of ice cream and cover all your bases.
You will then need to write your business plan that outlines the critical elements of your business. This would include your target market, profit margins, and how you plan to make your business a financial success.
You will also need to decide your business entity or how you will legally organize the business.
Common business entities include:
- Sole Proprietorship
- Limited Liability Company (LLC)
You will have to consider the pros and cons of the liability, costs, and administrative requirements.
Naming your business is the next step. You will have to choose a memorable, available, and something that will resonate with customers. Check with your state’s business records, federal and state trademark records, social media platforms, and website domain availability. Once you have chosen the perfect business name, secure your domain.
With your name chosen, define your brand. Your brand entails deciding what your company stands for, how you want the public to view your company. Design your logo that will best represent your brand image. If you’re going to provide only healthy options or incredible indulgences, this will determine how you brand your business.
2. Be Consistent
People get used to their favorite ice cream.
When you start your business, you’ll have to be consistent. Offer the same quality ice cream, exceptional customer service, and hours in the same locations and hours. When customers can find you, it is easy for them to become regulars. Make sure you have different products and continually strive to come up with new items for them to try.
3. Choose Your Location and Route
When planning your route, you will want to include areas near schools, parks, music, and sports venues. Check with restrictions in various communities. Investigate if another ice cream truck has your desired route taken. Look into being a part of local festivals and food truck events.
4. Choose Your Hours
Your route and hours may change with the seasons. During the summer and school breaks, you will need to adjust your routes and hours as kids are out and looking for tasty treats. The more you work, the more your business profits. The best time to get on your route is on weekdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on weekends.
5. Choose Whom You’ll Service
Next, you need to identify your target market. Whom will you focus your marketing attention? Where do they live? Where do they work? What is their schedule?
If you are targeting a region, you’ll want to go where the kids are. But that’s not all you can do.
We recommend that you get creative. Consider visiting a construction site or a road site construction area. Who better deserves a cold, delicious treat than those workers who spend the entire day out in the sun?
You can also consider providing ice cream treats at various outdoor community events or food truck gatherings. Try your best to connect with event managers who can use you for various corporate meetings and conferences as a unique treat.
6. Be Aware of Local Restrictions and City Ordinances
It’s vital that you follow all city ordinances and stay aware of local restrictions. Remember that every county and city is a little different. They will each have different rules and regulations about things like:
- How you build your truck
- Flashing lights
- “Caution Children” warning signs
- Carpet in the vehicle
- Wipeable surfaces
- Fire extinguishers
An example of city-specific regulations, Stafford has strict rules on mobile vending. Restrictions like this are essential to know before you cross city lines.
As for your food handlers certificate, we recommend applying for this certificate, but it is often not required. Check with your city or county to be sure whether it’s required or not.
It would help if you also found out what you can sell. Some cities and counties have restrictions based on the type of food product you can sell. For instance, you may only be allowed to sell pre-packaged novelty treats versus freshly scooped ice cream.
Permits and licenses are equally necessary. You need your business license, but you might also need a permit to sell food on the street. Some city police departments also require that you have a peddler’s permit. If you buy your product wholesale, you may also need a resale license.
If you don’t have the proper permits and licenses, you can risk a hefty fine or risk being shut down. Take the time to learn what permits and licenses are required in your city and county.
7. Buy The Right Vehicle
New vs. Used. To run an ice cream truck, you need the appropriate vehicle. Start by browsing the local listings. Building out your ice cream truck brand new is ideal but can be cost-prohibitive. However, you might be able to find an already-built one on local listings, saving you time and money.
Safety. Regardless of where you get your truck, you should seriously consider installing a camera on the back to see kids and pedestrians as they approach your vehicle.
Comfort. When choosing a vehicle, keep in mind how you’ll serve your customers from within your vehicle. A minivan could be a cheap and quick way to get yourself out on the road selling ice cream, but it’ll mean you’re hunched over all day as you serve your customers.
Cleanliness. As important as picking out your vehicle, maintaining it is equally important, especially for your primary customers, the kids. Moms will be far more likely to allow their child to buy a treat from you if your vehicle is clean, well-maintained, and in good working order.
Insurance & Registration. Lastly, you’ll need vehicle insurance and registration. You’ll need to be insured as a commercial vehicle. Ensure you clearly and carefully explain to the insurance company what you’ll be doing to avoid enormous insurance costs.
8. Choose Your Equipment and Services
After choosing your vehicle, you need to outfit it with the best equipment you can afford. Your primary concern should be getting something that will keep your product frozen. You’ll also need to invest in generators, inverters, and possibly a cold-plate freezer, though you can also use dry ice.
Finding your freezer and the different parts can feel overwhelming. For a simple deep-chest freezer, try a big box home improvements store like Home Depot or Lowe’s. You can try Southern Ice Cream of Texas, Cnelsonmanufacturing, Masterbuild, or buy directly from the manufacturer for more specialized equipment. Buying directly from the manufacturer is more expensive but often comes with a better warranty.
We recommend finding a reputable distributor. Having the right ice cream distributor will ensure that you get quality ice cream and the variety needed to sell to your market. In addition, many distributors have a wealth of local industry knowledge that you can draw and learn while also establishing a long-term relationship with others in your field. Ask for their tips on selling and marketing in the Houston area.
9. Choose Your Menu
As the logistics of your business are coming together, you’ll need to plan out your menu. First, make sure any product stickers and posted menu are well-organized and in order. A straightforward menu will help your customers make faster decisions – an important thing when your time is money. Along those lines, be sure to organize the product and the freezer so you can quickly and easily grab whatever you need to.
You should also limit your menu. Of course, you want to carry everything so you can make most people happy. But having 50 different options is too many. Instead, aim for about 20 items. This gives plenty of variety without risking a customer spending half an hour just reading through their options.
10. Market Your Ice Cream Truck Business
Create Your Marketing Strategy
Every business needs a marketing plan. Your truck and the music that flows from it are great advertising tools themselves. Make sure that you have chosen a vibrant design or color, so the truck stands out. But they should not be your entire marketing strategy.
Pass Out Flyers
The fact that you will usually drive the same route each day should support your word-of-mouth advertising. Make sure that if you vary routes, post flyers or hand them out to let your customers know when they should expect you in their communities.
Build Your Website
Make sure you build a website and have it active before creating social media accounts. Websites are vital to establishing some legitimacy and social proof with reviews. You can start with inexpensive website creators like Wix or Squarespace.
- Do the legwork or phone work, and reach out to schools, sports teams, and nonprofits in your area to provide your services.
- Sponsor Little League Teams and be there for their games, ready to serve the crowd.
- Use your flyers to include information about your availability for special occasions like birthday parties.
- To keep customers coming back for more, offer frequent customer rewards cards that give them discounts when purchasing a certain number of treats.
Connect on Social Media
Build a Facebook page, and Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok account. Offer special deals and make sure you post regularly and respond to your followers. Join groups and engage with others to grow your brand.
While all social media platforms provide opportunities to build your brand and get the word out, Instagram is perfect for posting tantalizing photos and your location.
Offer free promotional treats for follows and likes.
11. Choose Your Ice Cream Truck Music
You will need a music box and amplification system to ensure that people know you are coming from blocks away.
One source for music boxes can come from Southern Ice Cream of Texas or visit Nichols Electronics directly. They offer two-channel, 16 song boxes that will get you the attention your truck needs. You can also hook up Bluetooth speakers and play music on your phone.
Unless you are asked to turn the music off, keep it playing even when you while stopped.
12. Be Safety Conscious
Be mindful of the fact that the majority of your customers will be children.
Use safety signs, follow all road rules, and turn on your flashing lights when stopped. Never use the reverse and ask if there is anyone in front of the vehicle before moving.
Do not have conversations out of the driver’s side window. Always work from the passenger side.
Handle food properly, following all guidelines of your local health department.
13. Watch Your Financials
You must maintain clear financial records. Bookkeeping is easier when you have a separate business bank account. Set up an accounting system and stay on top of your taxes.
When you have accurate recordkeeping, you can track your performance and make any changes to grow your business.
Consult with a CPA when setting up your financials and throughout the life of your business.
Your most significant expenses will be your fuel, truck maintenance, and the ice cream you sell.
While you will probably drive less than ten mph on your routes, you will have to ensure your tank is full. Expect to spend about $5 for each hour you are out on gas.
When you start, you will probably need $300-$500 worth of ice cream products. Set a budget for your business. Arrange for merchant status with Square or Venmo to accept payments.
Ready to Get Your Ice Cream Truck Business Started?
An ice cream truck business is a great low startup cost opportunity. With the right combination of great products, customer service, and marketing, you may be able to get a second truck and route going.
Partner with Southern Ice Cream as your ice cream distributor to make your ice cream truck a success! We offer quality ice cream and snacks, rental spaces for your ice cream truck, safety materials and resources, safety signs, music boxes, and the expertise to get you off on the right foot.