The National Ice Cream Retailers Association notes that gross sales for ice cream businesses vary broadly according to location, days and hours that the store is open for operation and how successful the store owner is at marketing and promoting the business. If you open your store in an area that receives lots of traffic, especially during the warmer months, starting a soft serve ice cream business can be rewarding. Keep in mind that the more clear your vision is for your store, the greater you increase your chances of effectively completing required paper filings, designing a comfortable and attractive store and hiring the most qualified staff in time for your grand opening.
Get your Employee Identification Number (EIN). Submit an application for an EIN at the Internal Revenue Service official website (see Resources). You can also apply for your EIN over the telephone by calling the Business and Specialty Tax Line at 800-829-4933. Fax your form to your state IRS office. Reference the "Apply for an EIN" link in the Resources section of this article. Click "Apply by Fax." Find your state's fax-in number and then submit your completed application.
Register to collect state sales and use tax. Visit your state's Department of Revenue website by clicking the "State Links" link in the Resources section of this article. Many states allow users to file forms and pay taxes directly through their websites.
Create a detailed business plan for your ice cream store. Include the flavors of ice cream you will serve. Note whether your store will create birthday and holiday ice cream trays for customers to purchase and enjoy. Include the days and hours that your store will be open for operation. Study the competition. Identify specific steps you will take to gain ample customer support to successfully compete with other local ice cream stores. Address the ways that you will alert the media and the public about your business. For example, you could write and distribute weekly press releases to local media. Keep in mind that you could also reach out to magazine editors and request that they write a feature review on your restaurant. Include your budget and the amount of capital your business will start with and how you will raise additionally needed capital. Refer to the Small Business Administration's "Writing a Business Plan" document in the Resources section of this article to review sample business plans.
Raise Capital and Get Insurance. Visit your bank. Submit loan applications to raise capital to open your store. Speak with local insurance providers. Purchase enough insurance to cover property damages such as fire, flood or theft. Make sure that you get ample liability insurance. Ask your insurance provider about employee related insurance such as worker's compensation, disability and unemployment to make sure you have enough insurance for your staff.
Get licenses and permits. Contact your state's health or licensing department. Obtain necessary licenses and permits such as a food establishment permit. Contact your city's zoning code commission to request that an inspector come to your restaurant and assess the property and insure that it is in compliance with local zoning laws. Refer to the link titled "Licenses and Permits" in the Resources section of this article for additional licenses and permits you will need depending on the type of services your restaurant will provide.
Contact a licensed and reputable real estate agent or broker to help you study the area where you want to open your store. Pick a highly trafficked location, especially during the days and hours your ice cream store will be open. Compare the costs of purchasing an existing ice cream store and building your store from the ground up. Remember that an existing store will likely already have the electrical wiring and telephone land lines in place. Keep in mind that existing store locations can cost $50,000 or less while it can cost $70 to $150 per square foot to build your store from the ground up. Stores typically range in size from 80 square feet up to 4,000 square feet.
Purchase equipment and furniture. Things you might need include an electronic scale, wire storage racks, stainless steel prep tables, cold topping ice bins and a batch freezer. Keep in mind that you can contact warehouses such as Soft Serve Equipment and Food Service Warehouse to purchase equipment at a discount.
Post job openings. You can find many qualified candidates for servers and cashiers at job boards such as Career Builder, Monster and Simply Hired. Reach out to colleges and universities and post openings with their Student Affairs offices. Post similar job openings in your local newspaper. Offer area high school students the opportunity to intern with your restaurant during the summer.
Market and promote. Create a professional website for your ice cream store. Add pictures and video clips from your store's grand opening to the website. Post your website's URL on message boards and discussion forums that focus on dining, entrepreneurs and ice cream. Include your website URL on all correspondence and e-mails that you send.
Rhonda Campbell is an entrepreneur, radio host and author. She has more than 17 years of business, human resources and project management experience and decades of book, newspaper, magazine, radio and business writing experience. Her works have appeared in leading periodicals like "Madame Noire," "Halogen TV," "The Network Journal," "Essence," "Your Church Magazine," "The Trenton Times," "Pittsburgh Quarterly" and "New Citizens Press."