Whether you have a sweet tooth or have been making ice cream since you were a kid, starting an ice cream shop of your own might sound like a dream career. And while there’s certainly the opportunity to have some fun when you own this type of business, you’ll also put plenty of hard work into starting an ice cream shop. It’s best to discover some unmet needs in your community that your ice cream shop could fulfill, but there are also plenty of opportunities to start a unique shop that can attract customers. Before you jump into this venture, though, take a few minutes to understand just what’s involved in starting a shop of your own.
Ice cream shops offer customers convenience and the chance to indulge in frozen treats. Many stores sell soft serve or traditional ice cream and custard, gelato, sorbet, frozen yogurt, and organic ice cream in a cup or freshly made waffle cone. Some also offer milkshakes and smoothies. Most ice cream shops offer many different toppings and a wide variety of flavors, giving customers more choices and access to premium products that they wouldn’t have in their freezer at home.
There are different ice cream parlor business models available. The traditional model, where servers scoop ice creams and prepare sundaes, remains popular. But there’s also an increase in the “self-serve” model where customers prepare their own sundaes and then pay according to the sundae’s weight.
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There’s plenty of competition in the ice cream shop industry, so start planning ways to differentiate your shop from others early on. Work to identify an unmet need in the community, and build your shop to fit it. Maybe you’ll decide to offer premium ice creams that aren’t available locally, or maybe you focus on also offering alternative non-dairy products for people with food allergies. Build your shop so that it’s different than others, from the decor to the experience to the products. This can help to build your customer base. Even investing in an ice cream cart can help get the business out in the community to increase sales and build awareness.
According to IBIS World, the ice cream shop industry recently underwent a period of growth, and the industry is predicted to continue to grow in the coming years. From 2014 to 2019, the industry experienced 1.8% annual growth, and the number of businesses increased to 14,040. The number of employees also grew to 124,191. In 2019 alone, the industry brought in $5 billion in revenue.
That growth is due to multiple factors. During the same time period, the per capita sugar and per capita dairy consumption also increased, meaning more people indulged in desserts, like ice cream, than during previous years. The years 2014 through 2019 also saw an increase in disposable income. More consumers had the extra money necessary to buy fresh ice cream at shops, whereas they’d be more likely to buy cheaper ice cream gallons at the store when money is tight.
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Many trends are changing the ice cream shop industry. According to Food Truck Empire, one of those major trends is an increased demand for non-dairy ice creams, like those made with oat, almond, or banana bases. Lactose-free and low-fat desserts are also becoming highly popular.
Shops can also take advantage of the demand for ice cream flavors and toppings that reflect the local community. This is particularly important in tourist locations, where tourists wish to experience the flavors of the area. Developing unique ice cream flavors with locally inspired names can add a special touch to a customer’s visit to an ice cream store. Ice cream shops that make their own ice cream have an advantage in this area since they can make their own unique flavors. However, any shop can make a specialty sundae or shake that’s inspired by the local culture.
Most ice cream shops market to adults who may or may not have children. The target market of an ice cream stand has available disposable income and wants to indulge in a special dessert or snack, usually during the summer months. Tourists are often a primary target market, but shops also rely on local customers to help sustain them, especially if they remain open into the fall.
Checklist for Starting an Ice Cream Shop
Ice Cream Alliance
International Association of Ice Cream Distributors and Vendors
National Ice Cream Retailers Association