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How to Start an Ice Cream Truck

How to Start an Ice Cream Truck

Last updated on 9/21/2022

An ice cream truck represents a unique opportunity for aspiring business owners. Low startup costs, minimal staffing requirements, and schedule flexibility allow you to design a business model that fits your lifestyle. Below, we’ll walk you through the process of starting an ice cream truck, the costs associated with it, and various marketing tactics you can use to ensure your ice cream truck business starts out strong.

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How to Start an Ice Cream Truck Business

Though starting an ice cream truck business isn’t as complicated as starting a restaurant, it comes with its own set of challenges. If you aren’t familiar with the ice cream truck industry, you might not know where to start. Follow the steps below to start your own ice cream truck business.

1. Write a Business Plan

The first thing any entrepreneur should do when starting a business is to write a business plan. This allows you to map out every step of the process, detailing everything from your financial background to your management structure. A business plan is also a key part of securing loans or investments for your business.

To learn more about this topic, read our article on how to write a food truck business plan.

2. Fund Your Business

Write a Business Plan

Starting an ice cream truck necessitates fewer overhead costs than other businesses. While some prospective ice cream truck owners might be able to finance their business out of pocket, many more will need to secure additional funding. Once your business plan is written, there are several different paths you can take to secure capital. Some of these options include:

  • Traditional loans: With a traditional bank loan, borrowers take out a set amount of money and repay it, plus interest, over a period of time.
  • Small Business Administration microloans: The Small Business Administration (SBA) microloan program allows small business owners to apply for a loan of up to $50,000. This money can be used for startup and expansion costs.
  • Business line of credit: A business line of credit functions similarly to a credit card. It allows small businesses to spend up to a certain amount and pay it back with interest.
  • Outside investors: In some cases, you can pitch your ice cream truck business plan to investors. If interested, they will buy into your company in exchange for a share of ownership.
  • Crowdfunding: Websites like GoFundMe allow new business owners to solicit donations from their community to finance their business.

3. Buy or Lease a Truck

Once you’ve secured funding, it’s time to investigate getting your own ice cream truck. In general, you’ll have two options: buy a truck or lease a truck. Both come with their own set of risks and rewards. Below, we’ll investigate the details surrounding each option:

Buying an Ice Cream Truck

Not unlike buying a food truck, buying an ice cream truck represents a significant investment. With a strong business plan, that investment can pay off in the long run. Depending on your preferences and what is available, you can buy one new or shop for a used truck. It’s important to note that a new ice cream truck will likely have updated features, while an older truck may come with equipment or modifications from the previous owner. It’s also important to note that the high price of buying an ice cream truck can serve as a barrier to entry for some prospective business owners.

Leasing an Ice Cream Truck

Similar to leasing a food truck, leasing an ice cream truck allows for more flexibility as you start your business. On a monthly basis, leasing an ice cream truck is less expensive than buying one. This option offers increased accessibility to the ice cream industry and a wide variety of trucks to choose from. A potential downside of leasing is that you may have to return the truck. For this reason, you must plan ahead and renew your lease on time.

How Much Does an Ice Cream Truck Cost?

In general, it can cost anywhere from $10,000 and $60,000 to buy an ice cream truck. Conversely, the cost of leasing an ice cream truck typically falls somewhere between $400 and $800 per month.

4. Create a Menu

Curating a menu can be a stressful and intimidating task. With so many options, it’s difficult to decide on what to offer and what to exclude. Although an ice cream truck is only meant to serve frozen desserts, creating an ice cream truck menu can still be difficult. To curate the menu that best fits your ice cream truck business, follow these tips:

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  1. Highlight signature dishes: If you plan on offering unique or original ice cream recipes on your menu, put them front and center. This can peak customer interest and generate repeat business.
  2. Keep it simple: While it’s fun to offer an assortment of different options on your menu, having too much can overwhelm the customer. Restrict your menu to best sellers, classics, and original recipes. If you notice an item selling poorly, consider cycling it out and offering something new in its place.
  3. Stick to a basic design: Avoid using flashy colors, fonts, or designs on your menu. A straightforward and easy-to-read menu can improve the customer experience more than an intricate one.
  4. Listen to feedback: Consider reaching out to your customers to hear what they have to say. This can help you improve your menu and generate new product ideas.
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5. Invest in Equipment

Invest in Equipment

Once you’ve acquired a truck and decided on a menu, you’ll need to shop for the proper equipment and supplies. Consider creating a list of essential appliances, disposables, and other products your truck will need. It’s important to note that your equipment needs can vary depending on what kind of ice cream you serve, the area you operate in, and your personal preferences.

Ice Cream Truck Equipment

Below, we’ve listed some of the most popular appliances and products found on an ice cream truck and what you should keep in mind while shopping for them:

  • Freezers: A good ice cream truck freezer is durable, can maintain cold temperatures, and has enough space to fit all of your frozen desserts.
  • Soft serve machines: The ideal soft serve machine is easy to operate and produces consistent results.
  • Snow cone machines: A quality snow cone machine produces fast results without sacrificing quality.
  • Condiment storage: To add an element of customization to your menu, be sure to invest in adequate storage space for toppings, sauces, and other ice cream condiments.
  • POS system: While some food trucks are cash only, it may be more convenient for your customers to pay with card. Consider investing in a mobile POS system to track orders and allow for easy checkout. Some POS systems even allow you to manage a customer loyalty program.
  • Dipping cabinets: A good dipping cabinet facilitates easy ice cream cone preparation. Try to find a cabinet with an easy-to-lift lid and durable construction.

Ice Cream Truck Supplies

Whether you’re serving soft serve, pre-packaged ice cream, or another type of frozen treat, the following ice cream truck supplies can help you offer excellent customer service:

  • Disposable containers
  • Disposable utensils
  • Ice cream cones
  • Napkins
  • Straws

6. Investigate Ice Cream Truck Permits

Depending on which area you plan on operating in, you may need to apply for select permits and licenses. These are often set in place by local or state governments and help to maintain safety regulations. It’s important to keep in mind that they can vary from place to place, so what is required in one state may be different in another. Because of this, make an effort to reach out to local authorities to ensure your ice cream truck business can operate legally. Below, we’ve listed some of the most common permits, licenses, and regulations you’ll need to investigate for your food truck.

  • Valid driver’s license: If you plan on driving your truck around town, be sure to have a valid driver’s license.
  • Health permit: A health permit certifies that your ice cream truck meets local health standards.
  • Food handling permit: These certify that you are allowed to handle and serve food to your customers.
  • Business license: This certifies that you are legally allowed to operate your ice cream truck business.
  • Insurance: Most states require some form of car insurance to drive. You may also want to invest in additional insurance for your business.

7. Advertise Your Truck

Advertise Your Truck

Once you’ve acquired a truck, set a menu, and applied for necessary permits, you’ll need to begin advertising your ice cream truck. Unlike traditional restaurants, ice cream trucks do not have a fixed location. Because of that, you must advertise your truck effectively. Below, we’ve listed marketing techniques that can help grow your brand:

  • Improve branding: An appealing logo and color scheme can help attract new customers.
  • Design a website: Consider using a website-building platform such as Squarespace or Wix to make your own website. This can help you build awareness for where your truck will be and the ice cream you offer on your menu.
  • List your route: If customers know the route your truck typically travels, they will know where to wait for you.
  • Attend local events: Consider attending local food festivals, fairs, and music events with your truck to build awareness for your business.
  • Utilize social media: Creating an account on Instagram, TikTok, or another type of social media site is an easy way to increase customer engagement and improve visibility for your business.
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Ice Cream Truck FAQ

Many questions come along with starting an ice cream truck business. Whether you’re new to owning an ice cream truck or have operated one for years, it’s important to stay informed on the industry. Below, we’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions:

How Much Does an Ice Cream Truck Make?

In general, an ice cream truck makes somewhere between $200-$500 per day. It’s important to note that depending on where you live, most ice cream trucks operate seasonally. This means that there will be several months of the year when you won't be able to make money.

What Are the Hours of an Ice Cream Truck?

Ice cream trucks generally operate from as early as 10 in the morning to as late as 7 at night. Keep in mind that these hours can vary and you can set a schedule that best fits your lifestyle.

An ice cream truck offers a flexible business opportunity while posing significantly less risk to your finances than other business types. Despite this, starting an ice cream truck business comes with its own set of obstacles. By adhering to the tips above, you’ll be able to position your ice cream truck business for success.

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