Frozen Dessert Success

How To Scoop and Swirl Your Way to Success

Posted by Robert Romarino

Feb 20, 2024 1:38:09 PM


A Guide to Starting Your Own Retail Ice Cream Business

Soooooo you want to open an ice cream business? What’s wrong with you? Are you crazy? Well, of course not. Over the past 40+ years, our Sentry team has helped thousands of people turn an idea into a successful business. In fact, we were thinking of putting one of those tag lines “over 100,000 served” under our logo, but it seemed a little tacky after Mcdonald's 99 billion number. Either way, we are very proud of all the help, consultation, and equipment we have provided over the years. And it was all centered around frozen desserts.


So, it’s not crazy to want to follow in the footsteps of so many. The frozen dessert business can be an extremely profitable endeavor. However, you have to understand the do’s and don’ts of it all before jumping in head first. In this blog we will simplify these do’s and don’ts into a quick list. If you want or need more details, you will have to call us at Sentry. I know. I know. Who wants to actually contact anyone anymore? Doesn’t the internet have all the answers. Hasn’t AI taken over the world yet? Well, our first “Don’t” is Don’t just look online for all your answers (except this blog of course). Talk to the experts and people with practical experience to help guide you. And now…..


Let’s start with the Do’s

Do your market research and planning. Before diving into the world of ice cream, it’s crucial to conduct thorough market research. Identify your target market, understand their preferences, and assess the competition. Develop a comprehensive business plan that outlines your goals, budget, and strategies for success.

Do understand all financial considerations. As with any business, you have to be properly capitalized before you can begin. Make sure you understand the costs involved. This includes hard costs such as equipment, furniture, and signage to variable costs like construction, permits, architect fees, and more. You also want to ensure you have some opening operating capital to get you through the first few months. Determine your startup costs, and budget for equipment and supplies, and establish pricing strategies to ensure profitability.

Do make sure you have a good location. What is a good location? That is a tough question. There are some standards such as good visibility. Easy access in and out. Strong population density. However, an ice cream business should become a destination for people. So being a bit off the beaten path is not a deal breaker. Having a good location is a key component to your success. Can you incorporate a drive-thru? Remember, you get one chance to pick a spot. Don’t rush it.

Do know your concept. We have opened water ice concepts. Shake concepts. Ice cream concepts. Yogurt concepts. Mixed to starting an ice cream business e Combination concepts. I think once we even did just a plain concept. Point is, there are many options within the frozen dessert world. The right concept can help define your success. For example, does your demographic and location prefer a certain product? Will your shop be walk-in or walk-up? What will your theme be? Will you have homemade products or wholesale? Your store needs to have an identity built around your concept. Create a strong brand identity that sets your ice cream shop apart from the competition. Develop a marketing plan that includes online and offline strategies to reach your target audience. Use social media, promotions, and events to build excitement and attract customers to your shop before you even open.

Do understand the process. When you open a business from the ground up there are many businessy type things you need to do. Creating a legal entity. Registering with the town. Obtaining the necessary permits and licenses for your ice cream shop. Providing architectural drawings for permits and construction. Hiring contractors and, eventually, employees. Preparing balance sheets and profit and loss statements. Uniforms. Employee handbooks. Payroll. These are all important, necessary, and often excruciating steps in the process of opening a business. Having a good partner (ahem…Sentry) that can help guide you from A to Z is paramount.

Do believe in your Menu as a powerful tool. Craft a menu that showcases a variety of delicious flavors and options. Consider offering unique flavors, seasonal specials, and dietary-friendly alternatives to cater to a diverse customer base. Experiment with different recipes and ingredients to create signature flavors that keep customers coming back for more. Your menu is a blueprint for who you are as a brand. The look, feel, and even font all say something about you. The layout matters. The products matter. Make it visual. Make it flexible. Make it priced right. It’s an extremely, super, vital, unbelievably important part of your success….got it?

Do your homework. Who didn’t love homework as a kid? Well, great news…now you get to do homework as an adult! Homework does not consist of late-night internet surfing expeditions. There is a lot of information online that is just wrong. (This blog excluded of course!) As a novice, weeding through the rights and wrongs is almost impossible. Your best bet is to get out there and visit stores. Talk to owners. Talk to customers. Most business owners are willing to share as long as you are not future competition. You can learn more from a few days in the field than you will from weeks at your laptop.

Do make staffing an early priority. I work with many customers who get all the “Do’s” down until this one. They forget they need help. Your staff is an extremely, super, vital, unbelievably important part of your success….(I feel like I’ve said that before). The current qualified labor pool has shrunk to more of a puddle, so you need to recruit early and often. Hire friendly, enthusiastic employees who share your passion for ice cream and customer service. Train your staff to deliver exceptional service and uphold your brand values. Create a culture where people want to work. This way you can work more “at” your new business than “in” it.

Guide To Starting An Ice Cream Business


And now the Don’ts

Don’t listen to everyone. This kind of piggybacks off the homework content. When you decide to open a business, you will most likely start telling people. Family. Friends. Business associates. Well, these people will have an opinion. Some will be supportive and helpful. Some will be negative. Others in the middle. Don’t let your passion be compromised by others. Stay on course. Keep your head in the clouds but your feet on the ground. Take it all in but don’t try to convince someone else that you should do something you want to do. Understand the difference between actual useful advice and verbal diarrhea.


Don’t use the internet as your buying source. Again, the internet is a great tool. So is a screwdriver – that is unless you have to saw wood. Point is, a tool must be used properly to prove its worth. The internet can be a strong resource for some information, but buying equipment off the internet is dangerous. I know that is self-serving since we sell equipment here, but that does not mean I’m not right. The ice cream equipment is key to the quality of your product and its performance is directly tied to your bottom-line. Buying the right equipment from the right company is a must. You need a partner, not a drop-shipped piece of stainless steel.


Don’t cut corners or settle. Whether it be on your capital, your location, your vision or your equipment – don’t cut corners. It’s very important to follow through on every item throughout the process. If you start taking shortcuts now, it will not stop. You will start to take shortcuts on your employees, your product, your vision, and your customer service. Do you think your profit won’t suffer at all?


Don’t think it won’t be hard, hard work. Maybe you know someone who owns their own business. Maybe you’ve seen them out golfing in the middle of the day. Maybe they come and go as they please. Well, that won’t be you for a while! Opening a startup ice cream business is taxing. You need to be there. You need to provide the business the proper foundation so that it gets off to the right start. Employees won’t care like you. Managers won’t care like you. Family and friends won’t care like you. You and what you bring cannot be replaced. After the business does open, you cannot just show up at night to count the register. A business owner is invested financially, emotionally and physically into their business. It truly becomes a lifestyle. If you don’t think it is for you, thaen save your money. It is extremely, super, vital, unbelievably important that you establish the culture of your new business from day one. It begins and ends with YOU.


So there it is. Some quick Do’s and Don’ts about how to start an ice cream business. This will help guide you through the opening of an ice cream business. Most importantly you truly need a partner committed to your success. (ahem…Sentry). And on that last shameless sales plug, we will end.

Topics: Frozen Dessert Success, Ice Cream Profits, Best Ice Cream Machine, Ice Cream Sales, Business Startup, Starting an Ice Cream Business, Business Startuo, Do's and Don'ts