When subzero temperatures start creeping in, ice cream shops tend to see less and less customers walking through the door. So, here’s the big question many ice cream businesses are asking: Should I stay open this winter? When it comes down to it, we can’t tell you whether to stay open or not. It all depends on your customer demand, clientele, finances, and climate. Instead, we’ll go over the benefits of each option, so you can decide which is best for you.

Cons of Staying Open During the Winter

Although an ice cream shop in the coldest of cities is bound to get some traffic during the winter, you still have to consider the costs associated with ingredients, equipment repair, utilities, and paying your staff. If you’re too concerned about the operation costs canceling out any amount of profit you make this winter, then you may want to close your ice cream parlor. But don’t worry, you can use this time off to focus on ways to improve your business for the upcoming busy months! If you’re going to close this winter, then be sure to consider some of the following tips:

  • Enroll in winter classes. Some local colleges offer discounted rates on classes, if you’re not working towards a degree. Use your time away from your shop to refresh your knowledge on business plans, management styles, or other relevant topics that interest you.
  • Brainstorm new business plans for the spring and summer. Even if you don’t take a formal class, you can still come up with ideas of ways to drum up business in the busy season. Hosting events, or refreshing the look of your shop are just a few ideas that can help create a new buzz around town.
  • Use off days to develop plans for summertime. You can spend your free time developing new ice cream flavors, or researching new marketing tactics to try.
  • Start testing new flavor ideas. Experimenting with new flavor combinations is a great way to keep customers excited about your brand.
  • Sell your ice cream in local restaurants, cafes, diners, and bake shops. By branching out and offering your product in new places, you can reach new customers. Additionally, this technique helps strengthen your relationship with other business owners in your community.

Pros of Staying Open During the Winter

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It may sound crazy, but it can actually be beneficial to keep your ice cream parlor open during the winter months. Let’s face it—we all have some sort of sweet tooth, and with ice cream being such a nostalgic treat, it’s not uncommon for customers to crave it all year long. Also, many national chains keep their establishments open year-round. For example, select Dairy Queen and Bruster’s locations in both cold and warm climates remain open during the winter, so customers don’t forget about their products or start going to other businesses. Is there really ever a wrong time to enjoy a cone of soft serve? Especially if your business has already invested in a soft serve ice cream machine! The decision to stay open all year long is up to the discretion of the location’s franchise owner. However, if other chains in your area remain open, you may want to consider staying open for business, as well.

If you’re going to keep your ice cream shop open, it’s important to understand that you won’t be nearly as busy as you are during the spring and summer. However, the amount you make in the warmer months is usually enough to compensate for lower profits during the winter. Plus, you’re still going to have to pay rent, so why not make some profit? If you’re going to remain open this winter, then be sure to consider some of the following tips:

  • Reduce your hours of operation. Even after you’ve decided to remain open for business through the winter months, you can still cut back on how long your days are. This way, you can still serve customers, but keep your service time to peak hours only.
  • Only stay open certain days of the week. Similar to changing your business hours, you can also reduce the number of days per week that you open your doors. You can use your days off to accomplish other tasks relating to your business, or simply as a chance to rest and recharge for the busy summer months ahead.
  • Have a smaller staff. Hiring seasonal employees can help you cut back on payroll expenses. College and high school students are usually great candidates for seasonal employment because they can contribute more hours during summer breaks, and spend winter months focusing on their studies.
  • Close your shop on major holidays. Many customers will be spending holidays at home with their families, and with so many other businesses also observing the day, customers will understand if you choose to do the same.
  • Sell prepackaged pints and gallons for take-out. Even if the weather discourages people from setting foot outdoors, there are always birthdays and other celebrations happening during the winter months. By packing up your product to go, you can still make sales, even if people aren’t enjoying their ice cream inside your shop.
  • Create season-specific flavors and milkshakes. By making a limited-time flavor, you can get customers excited about your brand. This technique also creates a sense of urgency and will encourage them to visit your business.
  • Partner with other businesses. Try selling your ice cream in their restaurant, bakery, or cafe. This is a great way to get to know other business owners and reach new customers too!
  • Sell ice cream cakes for birthdays and other year-round celebrations. If ice cream cones aren’t selling like they do in the peak season, try changing up your products. Ice cream cakes make great presentations, especially for people who prefer ice cream to cake.
  • Broaden your menu. Including items such as hot chocolate, coffee, cookies, specialty candies, and other treats is a great way to keep customers coming to your shop all year long.

Whether you stay open or close this winter is all up to you. Consider staying open during the winter for one year to see how much you gain or lose. In the end, though, it depends on the factors we mentioned earlier: clientele, customer demand, finances, and climate. Approach every year as a learning experience—regardless of how you choose to handle your ice cream business during the off-season, every winter will give you a better sense of how you can improve your plan for the next year.