How to Start a Petting Zoo

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How to Start a Petting Zoo

We all loved petting zoos when we were children.  If you want to recreate that experience for children now, and you love animals and have access to sufficient land, a petting zoo may be a great way to have your own business and have fun!

Business Overview

A petting zoo provides a facility where children and adults can come to pet and feed animals such as goats, ponies, llamas, chickens, rabbits, sheep, or other animals that are friendly for a fee.  Some petting zoo businesses offer mobile services for birthday parties or other events.

While the thought of owning a petting zoo may sound like a dream, know that there is a lot of work to care for the animals, such as vaccinations, proper feeding, constant cleaning, etc.

Industry Summary

According to the bureau of labor statistics, the animal care and service workers market is projected to grow 22% from 2019 – 2029.  There is little information available about the petting zoo industry in general since most businesses are small, independently owned establishments.

Petting zoos have traditionally been operated within large zoos, but small petting zoos on farms or mobile petting zoos are also becoming popular.  The business is seasonal and somewhat sensitive to economic fluctuations because during economic downturns, people are less likely to spend their small disposable income on a petting zoo.

Target Market

Your target market will be families, particularly those with younger children.

Skills, Experience, and Education Useful in Running a Petting Zoo

There are several specific skills and education that you will need to open a petting zoo.

  • Experience with animals.  You need to have experience caring for a variety of farm animals.
  • Business knowledge and experience.  You will need to have some basic knowledge of marketing, finance/accounting, and human resources.
  • Customer service. You’ll need to be able to build rapport with your customers so that you retain them as customers and gain repeat business and referrals.

Checklist for Starting a Petting Zoo

Starting a petting zoo can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it’s important to make sure you’re prepared for the challenges ahead. Use this checklist to help get your business off on the right foot.

Step 1: Write a Business Plan

After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your petting zoo should be to write a business plan.  The business plan will make you focus on some important aspects of the business, such as who your customers are, how you plan to reach them, projecting sales and expenses, your value proposition to use for marketing, and more. You’ll also need to do some research to calculate exactly what your startup expenses will be and what your ongoing expenses will be.

Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan if you need financing, but multiple studies have shown that having a good business plan increases the odds of starting a successful business. Writing the plan helps you think through all the aspects of the business and then serves as a guide as you begin.

Related: How to write a business plan

Step 2: Name the Business

Finding the perfect petting zoo name can be challenging. Not only does the name have to reflect what you do and be appealing to customers, but it also has to be available to use. You can check your state’s website to see if the name is available and register your name.  Your name should make you stand out, reflect your brand, and tell potential customers exactly what you do.

Step 3: Form a Business Entity

A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from, which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Each type of entity has its own pros and cons, such as liability exposure, costs, and administrative requirements.

When deciding on which business entity is best for a petting zoo, it normally comes down to the sole proprietorship and Limited Liability Company.

A partnership opens the owners up to unnecessary personal liability because if a partner does something to get the business sued, or runs off with cash from the business, the other partners are personally liable to repay. The corporation can be a good choice because it separates the business assets from the owner’s assets. If the corporation is sued or certain business debts can’t be paid back, the owners aren’t personally responsible to repay them. The downside to the corporation is that it is more complicated than all the other entities and requires more administration than the LLC. If you plan on raising a lot of investment though, the corporation is usually the better choice.

That leaves the sole proprietorship and LLC.

The sole proprietorship is the least expensive and easiest entity to start which is appealing. The downside is the owner is personally liable should anything happen to the business, which is an important consideration. The LLC offers the ability to operate as a sole proprietorship with the liability protection of a corporation. Depending on the state, the cost to form an LLC runs from $40 – $500, which is pretty inexpensive for protecting the owners from business-related lawsuits and certain debts.

Related: Guide to forming your LLC
 

Forming an LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.


Some popular LLC formation services include:


IncFile - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!

IncAuthority - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent the first year!

ZenBusiness - $49 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!

Step 4: Select your Location

Your petting zoo location should be convenient for families, so it’s best to not be too far out in a rural area.  If you are going to run a mobile petting zoo, you’ll need to determine how far you’re willing to travel with your animals to choose your service area.

The facilities should include level terrain for safe waking, bathroom facilities, and a concessions area.

Related: Choosing a business location

Step 5: Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

Petting zoos will be required to obtain a Class C Exhibitor’s License issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Depending on the types of animals on display, additional permits may also be required. The annual license fee Class C Exhibitor’s License is between $30 and $300.

In addition, there are general business licenses and permits that will be needed.  A few of these may include a sales tax permit and an Employer Identification Number.

Related: Common business licenses, permits, and registrations by state

Step 6: Find Financing

Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a petting zoo is another.  In order to get a loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and be able to invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs.

Related: Finding the money to start a business

Step 7: Open a Business Bank Account

Keeping your small business and personal finances in separate bank accounts is important to track the income and expenses of your business and identify trends.
 
Many banks offer free business checking accounts, so be sure to find a cost-effective option for your business.

Step 8: Get your Marketing Plan in Place

A petting zoo will need to set aside a budget to cover marketing costs on a continuous basis. Common marketing techniques for a petting zoo include social media marketing, local newspapers, and online advertising, as well as flyers and postcard mailers.  Developing a website can be a significant expense, but it can also give your petting zoo greater visibility online.  Your signage for your petting zoo will also be important so that people will see you when driving by.

Related: Low-cost ideas to market a new business

One important task while working on the marketing is developing an online presence. A website developer may be out of the budget, but Wix makes it easy for non-technical people to get a website running quickly and affordably.

Step 9: Get Business Insurance

There are several types of insurance to consider when starting a petting zoo. A couple of these include:
– A general liability insurance policy can help protect the park from lawsuits and claims of bodily injury and property damage.  This may be expensive due to the potential for injuries.
Worker’s compensation insurance covers expenses like medical bills and legal fees that a business might face if an employee were ever hurt while working.

The cost to insure a petting zoo will vary depending on several factors. To get the most accurate idea of what to budget for insurance, request quotes from multiple providers. When comparing the quotes, consider not only the premiums but also how the plan exclusions, coverage limitations, and deductibles compare.

Related: Common types of insurance a business may need

Step 10: Hire Employees

You will need employees to help you run your petting zoo. They will need to fully understand how to care for the animals, how to maintain safety standards, and supervise guests.

In addition to salary costs, your budget will also need to include other employee-related expenses. Workman’s comp insurance, unemployment insurance, and paid time off are common expenses that a business will need to cover when hiring staff.

Related: Hiring your first employee

Step 11: Set up an Accounting System

Setting up an accounting system for your petting zoo business is critical to the long-term success of your business.

Staying on top of taxes not only keeps the business out of trouble with the government but the numbers can be used to track and monitor trends and cash flow in the business and maximize profits.

Related: Setting up the accounting for your business

The thought of accounting can be intimidating for a lot of new entrepreneurs. There are a number of ways of handling bookkeeping, from DIY to hiring a bookkeeper. These include:

- Pen and paper - Low expense, but difficult to track.
- Spreadsheet - Low expense, but easy to make errors.
- Accounting software - Medium expense, but owner typically inputs expenses. Some great accounting software programs include Freshbooks or Wave Accounting.
- Hire a bookkeeper - Higher expense, though very affordable at $100-$200 per month in most cases. A dedicated bookkeeper will probably save money because, in addition to handling all of the bookkeeping (so you can focus on the business), they also provide personalized tax advice and ensure the business is in compliance.

Find bookkeepers in your local area or use a service like 800Accountant.

How much does it cost to start a petting zoo?

If you don’t already have the land and facilities, your startup costs will be significant and it may take a long time to break even on your investment.

Here are some of the typical costs you will face when you open a petting zoo.

– Land cost: $10,000 +
– Barns, buildings, pens, and animal enclosures: $100,000 +
– Customer conveniences such as walking paths, picnic tables, gift shop, etc.
– Transportation equipment such as golf carts, trucks, and trailers: $20,000 +
– Animals: $3,000 +
– Animal trailers for mobile petting zoos: $5,000 +
– Special licensing: $300
– Insurance, $1,000-$5,000

How profitable is a petting zoo?

Prices for your petting zoo will range from $10 – $50 per admission, and prices will vary for children and adults. For birthday parties for a mobile petting zoo, you can charge up to $200 or more per hour.  

Assuming 200 visitors per week at an average of $25 per person for 2/3 (due to weather conditions – be sure to account for seasonality in your location) of the year, you can potentially make $173,333.

Ongoing expenses to care for the animals, including vet bills, are also significant, so you will need to budget these costs into your projections to make sure the business is feasible.

Additional revenues can be generated by charging for private parties, special events, field trips, animal encounters, pony rides, etc.

Are there grants to start a petting zoo?

It’s extremely rare to find a grant to start a petting zoo. If you search for business grants, you will come across a lot of scams and misinformation. Occasionally an organization will offer grants to start a business, however, be skeptical and don’t provide any sensitive personal information or pay money to get more information.

Legitimate federal grants can be found at Grants.gov and you can check on your state’s economic development office to see if they have any grants available.

What is the NAICS code for a petting zoo?

The NAICS code for a petting zoo is 712130, which is classified under Zoos and Botanical Gardens.

The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.

Related: What is a NAICS code and how to find yours

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