Summer is fast approaching. When we reflect on the summer season, we’re reminded of baseball games, lazy summer days on the water, and of course ice cream trucks!
If starting an ice cream truck is part of your summer plans we’ve got you covered. In today’s post, we will help you build a specific vending route that will have you bringing in profits all summer long. This piece is based on our 15+ years experience working with customers starting ice cream trucks to shaved ice trailers and everything in between.
In fact, if you sell just about any frozen summer treat you can follow this success formula to generating sales on a mobile food unit. It does not need to be ice cream to make this basic plan work.
How to Build Your Ice Cream Route
When new ice cream truck owners start out one of the biggest challenges is figuring out where to vend. With a truck you have a nearly limitless number of vending options that can lead to what’s called analysis paralysis. In simple terms it means you have so many options that you get stuck in place thinking about what to do. Don’t let this happen to you!
The first place we recommend testing is your area is driving around to residential locations and playing your music horn. We’ve spoke to dozens of vendors that we’ve worked with in the past and this is almost always how they get their start in the business.
Thanks to Google Maps, it is very easy to get an overview of where the different residential areas are in your city. We recommend selecting two – three suburbs or cities first to get started. Ideally, these locations will be nearby your home base since you’ll be able to save on gas.
In the example below, we’ve used the city of Woodbury, Minnesota as our home base. We have also selected the nearby suburbs of Maplewood and Oakdale. These three suburbs combined have a population of over 100,000 people. They are also made up of lots of families, which is ideal for for an ice cream business.
You can create a similar plan for the city you live too. We recommend limiting your route 2 – 3 suburbs at first to establish a presence in the local area. In the future, you can always expand your route into more areas if needed.
As an ice cream truck or van serving novelty ice creams, your bread and butter will be residential areas. These are areas with a lot of single family homes, townhomes, and even apartments with families. Even at the time of writing in 2019, kids are familiar with the jingle of the ice cream man (or woman). It’s an affordable experience continues to be as relevant today as it ever was to families.
Daily Service Schedule
After you’ve identified a vending area, it’s time to determine a service schedule. A service schedule will help you plan the weeks and months of your business operation. This can be created simply using a calendar or spreadsheet. Below is an example of a daily service schedule for one week.
|Off||Off||11 am – 5 pm||11 am – 5 pm||11 am – 5 pm||11 am – 8 pm||All Day Event|
|Evening Catering||7 pm – 9 pm||Evening Party||All Day Event|
With an ice cream business, the majority of your sales will happen in the afternoon or evening. A larger percentage of your sales will occur later in the week too. As a result, in our sample service schedule we’ve blocked off Monday and Tuesday as a day off.
Starting on Wednesday, we will begin driving through neighborhoods. Overtime, you will begin to identify the most profitable neighborhoods in your city. The profitable neighborhoods where sales are generated, you will return to. For the areas that you don’t get a return on investment, you can stop going to those neighborhoods and swap them out for more profitable spots.
How to Increase Profit on an Ice Cream Route
Coming up with a starting routes should not take a lot of time. You can likely come up with a solid route within 2 – 3 hours to test out. You shouldn’t get fixated on a specific route. The most important thing at first is simply getting out there and begin figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
One thing that you’ll learn with an ice cream truck is that the more time you spend driving through neighborhoods, the more income you’ll make. It really is as simple as that. Assuming you are vending during the summer time and during days when people are usually at home, you can expect to sell more cones, ice cream sandwiches, and shaved ice. The more you drive, the more you earn in this industry.
The second way you can increase profitability by offering catering services at birthday parties or corporate events. Believe it or not, catering is one of the easiest ways you’ll make money in this business. You’ll learn that as you begin driving your vending route, people will ask if you are able to serve at their event. Be prepared to give your customers a clear response to this important question!
You need to figure out the minimum amount you can drive to a location to vend at and how long you’re willing to serve at an event for that price. For example, you may be more than happy to come to an 9 year olds birthday party for 20 minutes if you’re able to generate $250 in sales to distribute 75 ice cream sandwiches. However, you may not want to take the same party if you are obligated to be there for 3 hours.
The third way that you can increase the profitability of an ice cream truck is by building partnerships with local sports teams and charities. It may come as a surprise to you, but middle and high school sports teams are always looking for new sources of funding. Thanks to the high-profitability of an ice cream truck, you can do a revenue split with these organizations.
This type of arrangement creates a win-win for both parties. You as the truck owner are provided with new customers and marketing for the business. The sports team is provided with a cut of a sales that can be used for a special trip or to purchase equipment like jerseys or pay fees. This strategy is so powerful that many ice cream trucks focus on this revenue channel exclusively.
The mobile ice cream business is one that will continue to remain relevant for decades to come. In fact, some of new marketing channels like social media make the business an even bigger opportunity than in the golden ages of the the ice cream truck. At the end of the day, if you’re able to be consistent with the frequency of your vending route this is a proven business model for someone that likes bringing joy to others and delivering exceptional customer service.