If you’ve ever stopped by a snow cone cart at the beach, a fair, or at a sports game, then you already know how refreshing this favorite treat can be. Starting a snow cone business of your own can provide an exciting business venture, and when done on a smaller scale, startup costs are minimal. One of the advantages of this type of business is that it’s seasonal – it’s something you can do in the summer for extra income, but doesn’t need to become a full-time year-round business. 

Business Overview

Snow cone businesses offer delicious frozen treats at convenient locations, like beaches and fairs. These businesses may take on various business models, including a full-service model where cones are served up ready to eat, to more of a self-serve model where kids get to churn their own ice and add their own toppings. Some of these self-service models are a great addition to birthday parties, while the traditional models are better suited to quickly serve large amounts of people. 

Snow cones are sometimes confused with shaved ice, their close relative. Shaved ice is much finer, resembling fluffy snow, while snow cones consist of larger pieces of ice compacted into shape. Many different syrup flavors are available, but snow cones remain a fairly simple product that buyers seek out because of its delicious taste and refreshing properties.

Industry Summary

According to Market Research Explore, the snow cone industry grew from 2014 to 2019, and that growth is expected to continue through 2026. Snow cone businesses can take on many forms, including pushcarts and more traditional food trucks. Because these carts and trucks often staff large events like sports competitions, fairs, and festivals, the snow cone industry is closely tied to the outdoor entertainment industry. 

Industry Trends

Transparency Market Research highlights the fact that snow cone popularity and consumption has also grown as disposable income has increased. With more disposable income, parents are more likely to hire a snow cone cart for a child’s birthday party, to take their children to fairs and festivals where snow cone businesses are present, and to buy their children snow cones during a trip to the beach. 

A side effect of this increase in snow cone popularity is that some parents may decide to buy snow cone machines for home use, possibly passing over opportunities to buy snow cones while out at events as a result. Low-cost snow cone machines are available for home use, but they lack the convenience that snow cone businesses provide during outings. 

Target Market

Snow cone businesses typically market to families with children. Colorful graphics, entertaining music, and eye-catching signs can all help to catch the attention of children and their families. A snow cone business will travel to the areas where its target market can be found, and those locations might include beaches, parties, festivals, fairs, sports events, and more. 

Skills, experience, and education useful in running a snow cone business

Running a snow cone business doesn’t require a business degree, but certain skills and experiences can help to increase the chances of the business being a success. 

Food service skills. Previous experience in the food service industry is an advantage and can give a business owner knowledge of safe food handling procedures, how to minimize service time, and more.

Customer service skills. Engaging with customers is a large part of this business. A warm, welcoming personality and strong customer service skills will go far, especially when a business repeatedly sells at the same location.

Mechanical knowledge. From troubleshooting cart or van issues to maintaining the snow cone machines and equipment, some mechanical knowledge can save a business owner from always needing to hire repair technicians.

Management experience. Previous experience hiring, training, and managing staff will allow a business owner to put together a team of great employees.

Creativity. Creative marketing and ideas for new potential locations can contribute to the business’ success and drive sales. 

Networking skills. Securing permission to sell at certain events may require connections with the organizers. A business owner who has strong networking skills can build up plenty of connections with business owners and other community professionals. This can lead to future opportunities for the snow cone business.

Organization capabilities. Snow cone businesses frequently travel to different locations, so strong organization and scheduling capabilities are important. 

Costs to Start

Startup costs for a snow cone business will vary significantly depending on the business model. Buying and outfitting a small cart will carry far lower startup costs than outfitting a van will. Plan to budget $15,000 for a small hand cart, and closer to $70,000 or more for a van operation. 

Common startup costs for a snow cone business include:

  • Inventory
  • Cart or van
  • Snow cone making equipment
  • Supplies like cone cups and napkins
  • Signage 

Steps to Starting a Snow Cone Business 

Step 1. Write your Business Plan

After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your business should be to write a business plan.  Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business.

Related:

How to write a business plan
Free sample business plans

Step 2. 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 LLC.  Each type of entity has its own pros and cons such as liability exposure, costs and administrative requirements. 

Related: Comparison of Business Entities

Step 3. Select your Location

It’s possible to store a snow cone cart and other equipment in a home garage, eliminating additional rent costs. A business that operates out of a van may need to rent garage space, and that cost will depend on the size, location, and amenities available at the space. 

A business that plans to sell at events like fairs and festivals may also need to pay vendor fees, which are similar to renting the space for the duration of the event. These fees will vary depending on the event and the space’s location within that event. It’s important to carefully consider the potential profits the business could see at the event when deciding if the event fee is worth the investment. 

Related: Choosing a business location

Step 4. Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

A snow cone business owner will need to obtain certain business licenses and permits. These permits and licenses can vary based on the state and town where the business is located.

Because the business involves preparing and handling food, additional licenses and permits are required. According to Mobile-Cuisine, a snow cone business will need to obtain approval from the local health department. Many cities and states also require an owner or employee to take a food safety class and to receive a food handler’s permit. 

Some other common local, state, and federal registrations a snow cone business will need include a sales tax permit, Employer Identification Number, and Occupancy Permit among others. 

Related: Common business licenses, permits and registrations by state

Step 5. 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 snow cone business is another.  In order to get a loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and be able invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs. 

Related: Finding the money to start a business  

Step 6. Get your Marketing Plan in Place

Because snow cone businesses move around frequently, they don’t tend to market like traditional businesses do. A snow cone business might maintain a social media page to build awareness around its upcoming locations and events, but other marketing techniques may be more effective. Branded snow cone cups, paying for advertising at the events where the business is selling, and investing in eye-catching signage can be effective marketing techniques. 

Related: Low-cost ideas to market a new business

Step 7. Get Insurance

A snow cone business will need several types of insurance for full coverage: 

  • General liability insurance will help to protect the business against expenses like medical bills that it could face if a customer is ever injured while ordering from the business, or if they ever get food poisoning from the business’ products. 
  • Commercial property insurance helps to cover expenses that the business might face if its equipment or inventory were ever damaged in an event like a fire or other accident. 
  • Workmans comp insurance helps to protect the business against medical bills and legal fees if an employee is ever hurt while working. 
  • Commercial auto insurance covers the business-owned vehicle and protects the business from expenses if the vehicle is ever involved in an accident. 

Insurance policy cost will depend on many factors. It can vary from provider to provider, but the business’ vehicle and inventory value will also affect pricing. To get the most accurate idea of what to set aside for insurance costs, request quotes from multiple providers. When comparing the quotes, look not only at the difference between premiums, but also how deductibles, policy exclusions, and policy coverage limits compare. 

Related: Common types of insurance a business may need

Step 8. Hiring Employees

It’s possible for a snow cone business operator to run an entire cart-based business without hiring employees. A larger operation involving a truck or a fleet of truck will require staff. While data on the average snow cone vendor salaries isn’t available, Glassdoor reports that food truck cooks, a similar position, make approximately $21,092 per year. This would equate to about $1,758 per month. 

Staff salaries are just one of the expenses that a business will need to be prepared for when hiring employees. Other common expenses include workman’s comp insurance, unemployment insurance, and paid time off. 

Related: Hiring your first employee

How much can you potentially make owning a snow cone business?

Snow cone business profits can vary significantly based on the business’ location, profit margins, and its business model. Forbes reports that the mobile snow cone franchise, Kona Ice, topped $125 million in sales. While that level of success is uncommon in this industry, it does demonstrate that with an effective business strategy and plenty of hard work, a snow cone business can enjoy significant profits. 

1-800-Shaved Ice provides a sample profit and loss analysis that can help you to envision potential profits for your business. Assuming a 12% cost of goods sold, $24 in overhead costs, and $65 in labor costs per day, a business that does $200 in sales each day would see a monthly profit of $2,610. Increase those daily sales to $500 and the monthly profit grows to $7,920. A business that does $1,500 in daily sales would earn $27,270 per month in profits.

Things to consider before starting a snow cone business

One of the major advantages of the snow cone industry is that it’s possible to start a small cart-based business with only a minimal investment. This can be a great way to get a sense of the industry and even test out sites for their potential to support a larger van-based business.

It’s important to realize that the snow cone business is seasonal, with most sales taking place during the warm summer months. To compensate for this, some businesses branch out into other offerings, providing snow cones during the summer and offering other foods, like ciders, that appeal during fall festivals. Offering cold drinks and snack foods can complement the snow cones during the summer, potentially leading to higher sales. 

Resources:
National Food Truck Association