How to Start a Petting Zoo

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Quick Reference

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.

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.

Industry Trends

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.

Costs to Start a Petting Zoo

If you have land and facilities to care for your animals and have your petting zoo, you are ahead of the game. Here are the typical costs you will face when you open a petting zoo.

  • Setting up a business name and corporation costs approximately: $200
  • Business cards, brochures, postcards for marketing: $200 – $300
  • Website setup $100 – $200 for a basic, do it yourself website, $1,000 – $2,000 for a professional site
  • Land cost: $10,000 +
  • Barns, buildings, pens, and animal enclosures: $100,000 +
  • 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
  • Liability insurance, worker’s comp, property-casualty insurance: $1,000 – $5,000 (liability insurance could be expensive due to the potential for injuries)
  • Initial marketing such as Facebook ads or search engine optimization for your website, flyers, and postcards: $500 -$1,000

Steps to Starting a Petting Zoo

Step 1: Write your 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.

How to write a business plan
Free sample business plans

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 a 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.

RelatedComparison of Business Entities

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 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 business and personal finances in separate business bank and credit card accounts makes it easier to track the income and expenses of the 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

Step 9: Get Insurance

A petting zoo needs several types of insurance for full coverage:

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.

Professional liability insurance protects you from claims of professional errors or negligence that result in a financial loss.

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.

Insurance policies will vary. 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: Hiring 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 accounting for your business

How Much Can You Potentially Make Owning a Petting Zoo?

Prices for your petting zoo will range from $10 – $20 per hour, 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.  Your revenue is difficult to predict.  If you can get 25 visitors per week and do 1 party a week for 2/3 of the year, you can make $25,000 – $30,000 per year.  You can make much more by doing a larger volume.

Things to Consider Before Starting a Petting Zoo

Running a petting zoo or any business will have its challenges.  You need to be prepared and make sure that you know what you’re getting into.

If you don’t already have the land and facilities, your startup costs will be significant. It will take a long time to break even on what you invest.  Ongoing expenses to care for the animals, including vet bills, are also significant, so you will need to be very successful to make a profit after expenses.

Marketing costs to get the volume of customers that you need will also be expensive.  You will need to include that in your budget.  Look into offering group discounts to businesses, local schools, and church groups or discounts for slower days of the week to attract more business.

Remember that your business will be seasonal depending on where you’re located and weather dependent.   You’ll need to plan for your downtimes.

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.

Finally, you will need to research the cost of liability insurance, which may be expensive due to the potential for injuries to both customers and employees.  This will be an ongoing expense that you will need to cover.

Talk to other business owners for tips on starting a business and do your homework to determine costs.  Research other petting zoos to see what they offer and what prices they charge.

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