If you’re thinking of opening an ice cream shop, you’re likely headed into a potentially lucrative business. By some estimates, the average American consumes 48 pints of ice cream annually, spending $144 each year to do so. However, the popularity of ice cream alone doesn’t guarantee a successful business; rather, it’s critical to consider several factors before diving in. Here’s the scoop on what to consider when opening an ice cream shop.
Franchise vs. independent shop
Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Opening an ice cream shop by teaming up with a franchise organization means you’ll have assistance with almost every aspect of starting your own business, from determining store layout and design and engaging in employee training, to choosing supplies, ingredients, and equipment—even point of sale hardware and software. However, significant upfront capital is required.
Opening an ice cream shop that will operate independently gives you more freedom when it comes to your menu, equipment, and systems (including, of course, your point of sale system). It also allows you to decide how much capital to invest in the operation. However, depending on your experience, there may be a steep learning curve.
There’s no sense in opening an ice cream shop in a location that already has several such stores—unless, of course, your operation will differ considerably from competitors’ stores and the area demographic (see below) seems appropriate.
Looking at other local ice cream shops and stands—as well as the type of population yours will serve—will make it easier to determine the focus of your menu. So, too, will a peek at the U.S. Census Bureau website, where you can find demographic information, about the locals (including income, household make-up, and lifestyle). Then, plan accordingly. For example, if you’re thinking about opening an ice cream shop in an affluent neighborhood, you may want to sell artisan ice cream. If the area in which you want to operate has a high volume of young families, you might want to go with both traditional and soft-serve ice cream (the latter is a favorite among kids).
Consider, too, whether you want to sell other items that may help your ice cream shop to freeze out—or at least, hold its own against—the competition. Examples may include homemade ice cream sandwiches or waffle-and-ice-cream combinations. One cool tip: Once you’ve opened, regularly review data from your point of sale system to determine what’s selling and what isn’t—and adjust the menu accordingly.
Opening an ice cream shop means acquiring several different types of equipment, including carts, walk-in coolers, walk-in freezers, freezer cases, fudge warmers, prep tables, and storage shelves, to name a few. If you’re going to be making your own ice cream, you’ll need pasteurizers as well. You may be able to find some of these at secondhand restaurant supply stores.
You’ll also need a computerized point of sale system, preferably one that’s designed for use in an ice cream shop and, in addition to ringing up sales, can be used to track inventory and other aspects of your operation. If you’ll be selling soft-serve ice cream and/or frozen yogurt, a point of sale system that’s integrated with a scale will help with portion control and ensure that customers aren’t under- or over-charged for set portions of ice cream; if a small cup of ice cream is supposed to contain four ounces of product, employees won’t dispense more than that.
Health department requirements
You’ll need to get a permit for opening an ice cream shop in your city—and that means meeting many requirements. All information about permit requirements for a physical store—as they pertain to everything from equipment and lighting to garbage, plumbing and ventilation, rodent/insect control, and restroom access—is easily obtained from your city’s health department. Keep these details handy when assessing potential spaces for your store. That way, you won’t need to renovate a space that isn’t up to code, or make other possibly costly changes.
The rewards from opening an ice cream shop can be very sweet, provided you take a methodical approach to the process.