However, before you run off to start your own mobile ice cream shop, you need to understand several important aspects that are specific to this niche. Hopefully, by the time you finish reading this post, you’ll have a clear idea of exactly what you need to do in order to turn your appreciation of ice cream into a fresh source of monthly income. So let’s get started, shall we?
1. Things to Consider: Challenges and Hidden Opportunities
As with any vending business, an ice cream cart venture has its specific challenges and opportunities and it’s entirely up to you to make them work in your favor.
For example, the greatest challenges ice cream carts rental face are the ones related to their local council’s street food regulations that usually address the vending carts equipment and the trading locations.
At the same time, seasonal limitations should also be considered: if you live in an area where the weather tends to be drafty and wet most of the time, selling ice cream outdoor would be a challenge, to say the least. Add to that the convenience of supermarket shopping and you get the full picture of an ice cream cart business’ limitations.
However, the “when one door closes, another one opens” adage successfully applies in this case: many ice cream cart vendors work around these restrictions by catering to fairs, private events, and parties. And, according to our customers, one of the most lucrative sub-niche is renting the ice cream cart to weddings and birthday parties.
Other advantages of an ice cream cart business are low start-up costs, excellent profit margins, minimal waste, and little skill required (unless you prepare the ice cream yourself).
2. Find Out the Legal Requirements of an Ice Cream Cart Business
Thorough research and planning will help tremendously, especially since legislation concerning street food vending varies from one country to another and even from one city to another.
The legal requirements don’t only determine what and where you’re allowed to sell; they also determine your vending cart’s equipment. We often adapt our carts, including ice cream vending carts, to fulfill regulations concerning hot & cold water supply, waste disposal, and so on.
So, the first thing you should do is to contact your local Health Department or the Department of Environmental Services in your area and address the following issues:
- The street food vending regulations in your city;
- The types of food you’ll be selling and how they’re handled, stored, and served;
- Commissary requirements (the requirement to operate from a licensed commercial kitchen)*;
- The size, make and the equipment of the ice cream vending cart;
- The cart’s fresh water and waste water holding capacity;
- Safe food handling course requirement;
- Hygiene policies;
- Pre-approval inspection of the equipment.
* In the US, most municipalities don’t allow street food vendors to operate a food service business from a residential kitchen and they require the use of a commissary – a licensed and inspected commercial kitchen. Vendors have to report to the commissary each day of operation to prepare the food that will be served from the cart and to clean the cart’s equipment at the end of the day. However, since you’ll be selling frozen desserts, check if this applies in your case.
After learning about the health and safety requirements, you should contact the Business License Department and find out what you need to obtain your business license.
If you’re planning to advertise on mobile billboards, you should also check if there’s a limit on the maximum amount of signage you are allowed to use.
Legal Requirements, in short
Most of our customers said the requirements usually involve a health permit, a food handling permit, an ice cream vendor permit, a business license and insurance. You might also need a criminal background check before the permits can be issued to you
3. Research Target Market and Locations
Make a list of street vending locations
Start by making a list of all the places with good vending potential in your area. The list should include neighborhoods occupied by families, parks, shopping centers, swimming pools, beaches, fairs and festival locations, and other places where children and adults frequently go.
Remove those where street vending is restricted and highlight the ones that seem most attractive to you.
Brainstorm catering opportunities
After refining the first list, make a second one that addresses catering to private events and parties. An ice cream vending cart can be the center of attention at company picnics, community get-togethers, fairs, festivals, parades, fundraisers, birthday parties, engagement parties, weddings, and more.
The idea of having soft-serve ice cream desserts at private celebrations and social events is a huge hit with the customers, and the best part is that parties always lead to more parties. Virtually every event you’ll attend could bring in future business, but this also means you’ll have to rise up to the occasion and be the best in what you do!
4. Research Your Competition
As a first-time entrepreneur, you should thoroughly research all the aspects of your future business, and sizing up your competition is a crucial part of this stage. Who else sells ice cream in your area? Visit each one of them and observe how they’re operating their business. Pay attention to things such as:
- Vendor’s attitude;
- What are they doing right;
- What are they doing wrong;
- What are the things you could do better;
- What kinds of ice cream, toppings, and sides they’re selling;
- Unique flavors and combinations;
- Best selling products;
- Particular customer preferences;
- Marketing and branding.
Write all these things down as they will help you create your menu, your pricing structure, and your marketing strategy.