Deep down, everyone’s dream is to drive an ice cream truck: cruising down a residential street while broadcasting a catchy tune and handing out frosty treats to young children sure beats what most people do for money.
While this may seem like a joke, driving an ice cream truck can actually be a profitable business with low overhead, particularly in the summer months. According to a survey conducted by Food Truck Empire, an ice cream truck driver can expect to bring in $200 to $300 a day, and even up to $1000 a day on holidays like the 4th of July.
Of course, driving an ice cream truck is a seasonal business and most drivers can only expect to operate for 4-5 months a year, tops, but for gig workers–or those that experience downtime in their main line of work during the summer–doling out popsicles to neighborhood kids can be a great way to earn extra cash.
In this guide, we’ll examine what makes a good ice cream truck driver, look at key ice cream truck business statistics, and cover the necessary steps in taking your business to fruition. Good luck on becoming the most popular person in the neighborhood.
Is driving an ice cream truck right for you?
Doling out ice cream isn’t for everyone, so see if the following traits apply to you. If they do, driving an ice cream truck may be a good fit.
You like calling the shots and running your own business.
When you have your own ice cream truck, nobody can tell you what products to sell, where to sell them, or when to operate your business. If this type of freedom appeals to you, driving an ice cream truck will be liberating.
You have downtime in your main line of work during summer months or can fit driving an ice cream truck into your schedule.
Sadly, an ice cream truck business isn’t a venture that anyone can count on doing year-round. Rather, it’s a nice way to generate a supplemental $10K-15K a year on top of your principal means of income. Not everyone can fit driving an ice cream truck into their schedule, but for those that can (perhaps you are a teacher on summer holiday), it’s a great path to extra money.
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You are able to endure minor annoyances.
An ice cream truck’s target market is children, and kids tend to be a little rowdy, unclean, and may not get the price right on the first attempt. What’s more, you’ll have to listen to that ice cream truck tune on loop for hours at a time. If these things don’t bother you, you’re in the clear.
Starting an ice cream truck business
1. Choose which ice cream product(s) to sell
Deciding which product(s) to sell is one of the principal decisions of an ice cream truck driver’s business plan:
- Will you specialize in one type of frozen treat, or sell a variety of ice creams?
- Will you sell scoops and ice cream cones or pre-packaged ice cream treats such as ice cream sandwiches?
- Soft serve ice cream or hard ice cream?
- Which ice cream flavors will you stock?
Check with local ice cream vendors to determine the most realistic path forward for your business. Selling pre-packaged treats is definitely the easier way to go, but selling cones may generate more profit.
2. Calculate your expenses and purchase equipment
One of the benefits of running an ice cream business is that it isn’t very complicated: there are only a few expenses and variables to worry about. Start-up costs are low and labor costs are practically non-existent. Here are some of the most important items on an ice cream truck driver’s budget sheet:
- Buy or lease an ice cream truck – Of course, every ice cream truck driver will need a freezer-equipped ice cream truck. Whether you buy or lease the truck depends on your long term plans: an ice cream truck can only operate for about 4 months a year, so it may be best to lease one out to begin with. We found in our independent research that leasing a truck typically runs between $1500-2000 a month. However, if you envision making your ice cream truck business a perennial venture and can afford it, it might not be a bad idea in the long run just to buy a truck. Most used ice cream truck listings we’ve seen are around $15,000 to $20,000.
- Permits and licenses – An ice cream truck driver will likely need to acquire a handful of permits and licenses to run their business, including a business license or possibly a peddler’s permit. We examine necessary permits and licenses in greater detail below.
- Insurance – Taking out a number of insurance policies is essential for an ice cream truck driver, as it is for any business where motor vehicles are involved. Check the Buy insurance coverage section for more information.
- Ice cream – Next comes inventory: you’ll need to stock up on ice cream before you hit the road. Research local vendors to determine which ones offer the best profit margin. We recommend buying $300-$500 of ice cream products to start off.
- Gasoline – Even though your truck will rarely top 15 MPH, gasoline is a key operating expense, and you’ll have to fill up the truck on a regular basis. Fuel costs won’t be prohibitive but expect to spend about $5 an hour on gas.
- Dry Ice – The most effective means of keeping everything frozen is dry ice, AKA, frozen carbon dioxide. On a Reddit AMA post, one former ice cream truck driver claimed to spend about $10 a day on dry ice.
- Napkins – Not essential, but would be a nice thought.
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3. Acquire funding, choose a business entity, register your business, and obtain federal and state tax ID numbers
Refer to our How to Start a Business Guide for instructions on how to complete these essential steps.
4. Obtain the necessary licenses and permits
For prospective ice cream truck drivers, completing this step is heavily dependent on local laws and ordinances. Check with local officials and the local department of motor vehicles for a definitive list of the permits and licenses you’ll need to run your business.
However, there are a number of licenses and permits you can count on needing to acquire:
- Valid driver’s license – Driving any motor vehicle necessitates having a driver’s license. However, you can probably get away with not getting a commercial driver’s license as an ice cream truck will likely be under the weight limit of 26,000 necessary for a driver to get a Class A or Class B CDL.
- Business license – Check with your local municipality for business license requirements.
- Health permit – Prepare for the county health department to perform a health inspection on your truck to make sure you’re complying with local health regulations.
- Peddler’s permit – In some areas, a peddler’s permit from the local police department is required to sell products in the open.
- Resale permit – Occasionally necessary for selling products that have been purchased wholesale from a commercial vendor.
5. Buy insurance coverage
Insurance coverage is an essential means of protection for any business, even for an ice cream truck driver. In fact, businesses with employees are required by the federal government to have two types of insurance, while others are strongly encouraged, or required at the state level.
Here are the forms of insurance you should consider:
Required forms of insurance for all business with employees
The following types of insurance are only necessary if you plan to have one or more employees working for your ice cream truck business:
- Workers’ compensation: Covers medical costs and disability benefits if an employee is injured or becomes ill on the job.
- Unemployment insurance: Provides benefits to workers after a loss of job through no personal fault.
Recommended forms of insurance for ice cream truck businesses
- Professional liability insurance: Covers losses as a result of property damage, medical expenses, libel, slander, and negligence claims.
- Product liability insurance: Protects your business and covers legal fees expenses in the case of a customer getting sick or choking on an ice cream product sold by your business.
- Commercial auto insurance: Covers property damage to your truck, business-owned properties, and other vehicles as a result of an accident, fire, theft, or storm.
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6. Market your ice cream truck business
No business can thrive without local advertisements and a well-established online presence, and these steps are particularly important for a freelance clown to spread the word about their act.
Here are the key steps for promoting your clown business:
- Create a website. Register a domain name for a company website (You can use domain.com, Bluehost, GoDaddy.com, or Namecheap.com). Hire a web designer to develop the website (or do it yourself). Be sure to include detailed contact information on the site.
- Open social media accounts. Register accounts on the popular social media services (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)
- Register a Google profile. This will allow you to add pictures of your business, respond to positive customer reviews, and address customer concerns.
- Respond to online customer feedback. Register accounts on business review platforms such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. This will allow you to write thank-you notes in response to glowing reviews and address negative reviews.
- Take out ads on billboards and in local publications. It still pays to increase visibility by buying ads in local newspapers and on highway billboards.
7. Plan your ice cream truck route
Deciding your truck route is an integral aspect of running an ice cream truck business. Having a detailed knowledge of the neighborhoods in the municipalities where you operate is very helpful, so it pays to study the area in Google maps.
- Stick to residential neighborhoods with little vehicular traffic and lots of children (i.e. potential customers).
- Be aware that some neighborhoods may have “No Vending” ordinances that prohibit ice cream trucks from doing business in the area.
- Check with other local ice cream truck drivers to avoid encroaching on their business as they may not appreciate having new competition on their turf.
- Park your truck outside of a well-visited local tourist attraction if possible to save on gas and take advantage of the foot traffic.
Ice cream truck business resources
- AllScream – Lots of great information and resources for prospective ice cream truck drivers, including local vendor information for numerous countries and all 50 U.S. states.
- eBay – You may be surprised, but eBay has tons of listings for used ice cream trucks at all price points. Just search “ice cream truck”.
- Turn Key Parlor – An online “ice cream equipment superstore” that also has listings of commercial US ice cream vendors by area.
- Used Vending – Provides many listings of used ice cream trucks for sale.
- SCORE – A nationwide network of small business mentoring groups and workshops with local branches all around the country. A great organization for small business owners