Earlier this year we surveyed 35 ice cream truck vendors actively operating across the United States to ask them a simple, but not easy to find answer: How much money does their ice cream truck make per day on average?
The results of our survey was surprising, but first we want to dive into the methodology behind our survey. Numbers don’t lie, but they can be misleading when taken out of context. Before we share the results, we want you to have a clear understanding about the types of ice cream trucks we surveyed for this report.
Survey Respondents and Methodology
All vendors responded to a survey based on anonymity through an online form. Many ice cream truck drivers don’t want you to know how much they make! Each vendor that responded was based in the United States and operated a mobile truck without a fixed location. This means that someone that happens to have a fixed daily parking location at a busy lake in the summertime would not be eligible. Having a fixed vending spot in a busy area in the summer could skew the numbers higher and make average daily income appear higher.
We also only surveyed independent or ma and pa ice cream truck drivers. As a result there were no franchises such as a Ben & Jerry’s being asked for their gross / net income. We only surveyed trucks that distribute pre-made and pre-packaged items and not artisan trucks that might make their own ice cream. The only trucks being surveyed were run-of-the-mill ice cream trucks that serve traditional treats like Drumsticks, Klondike bars, and other popular items. These trucks or vans play that old jingle music and drive around suburban neighborhoods each day.
Average Daily Income
According to our respondents, an average day in the summertime is between $200 – $300 of gross sales. If you worked 20 days per month on average that would be $5,000 in gross profit.
Average Daily Income: $200 – $300
Average Monthly Income: $5,000
Average Monthly Income – Expenses: $2,500
Factors that Determine Average Daily, Monthly, and Yearly Income
Seasonality – The average income numbers assume you are working summer months. Ice cream trucks will make the bulk of their business during the warmer months and when kids are out of school. A lot of vendors only operate this as a seasonal business that generate between $15,000 – $30,000 of gross revenue annually. Listen to this podcast interview with Mik Mart grew his summertime ice cream business.
Frequency – Being successful in the ice cream distribution game is all about consistency. The more days and hours you vend per month, the more you make. It really is that simple. If you want to make want to make significant amounts of money in this business, you need to be prepared to work long hours, weekends, and holidays during summer months.
Big Income Days – Yes, revenue will drop during the winter for you. But remember, you will also have days that will exceed your averages and you might generate between $500 – $1,000 in a single day. Particularly hot days or holidays for July 4th when everyone is in a good mood and celebrating lead to big pops in revenue that make your month. Another way to see larger income days is to allow customers to book you for special events or kids birthday parties.
Typical Cost to Break into the Business
Vehicle – The vehicle you operate will be the biggest investment you need to make before getting into this type of business. A reliable step van or truck will run between $10,000 – $20,000 as an initial investment. You will also need to think about getting the vehicle wrapped, customized and freezers installed to keep your inventory cool. If you’re on a budget, but still want to get into this business you could start a serving from a trike or push cart.
Gas – On average you will need to refill your gas tank two times a week. This is highly variable based on how far you need to travel though so factor this in mind. Recently, gas prices have remained well under $3.00 per gallon nationally. As long as gas prices remain low this is great for the ice cream truck industry, but keep in mind that if prices rise in the future it will cut into profits.
Insurance – This is a variable cost that will depend on where you live, what vehicle you drive, and your personal driving history. That being said $500 – $1,000 annually is a good amount to budget for insurance.
Permits – Depending on where you plan to vend, you may need a special permit. Often these can be acquired for just nominal fee between $50 – $200, but in some large cities this cost could be much higher.
Inventory – You’ll need to be regularly replenishing cones, popsicles, and ice cream sandwiches in this business. A solid starting stock of $500 is sufficient for most ice cream vans and can be replenished on an as needed basis. The nice benefit of this business model is that your waste cost will be minimal. As long as you can keep the product cold, it will remain in good quality.
Labor – The nice thing about this business model is that you can usually operate only one person on board. This is not that case with other food trucks. If you’re the one that will operate this business there is no labor cost aside from your time. Keep in mind that you will need to pay someone around $15.00 an hour to operate this type of business if you want to make it a more passive type of business.
Do these revenue numbers sound appealing to you? While you won’t make a million dollars operating an ice cream van, it can be a lucrative summer business and a great way to generate some extra income each year. If you would like to learn more about operating this type of business, check out these resources:
Summertime Business – Mik was a high schooler when he started his business. In this audio interview, Mik shares how he has grown his Minnesota based ice cream van business into multiple units.
Ice Cream Bikes – Can’t afford a van or truck? No worries, a bicycle or cart is a more affordable way to break into this business.
Andy Bauch Experience – Andy spent two summers as an ice cream truck driver. This post describes what his experience was like.