Steps to Starting a Petting Zoo
Starting a petting zoo is a big step that affects your finances and professional life. I suggest you take your time and talk to experienced people for advice, and I have a few tips to help you. This post will look at the steps you need to take, to start. We will then go over some points to consider before you get started.
Let’s get started with the steps you need.
The most important step you can take is research! The more you know about owning and running a petting zoo, the fewer surprises you will encounter. Therefore, it’s highly advisable to seek advice from experienced people. For all the details, See An Inside Look Into the Business You Want To Start.
You must understand the customers you plan to target. If you don’t understand your customers, you won’t be able to advertise correctly or cater to your customers’ needs. For more, see, How To Understand Your Target Market
2. Choosing The Right Business Location
The area you choose to open is critical. If you locate your zoo in an area where people are not interested, you will be spending time and money for nothing.
You must ensure the area is appropriate and there is a demand. Yes, there will be adults that will come to your petting zoo, but children and their parents are a significant part of your target market, so you need to make sure there are a significant amount of children in the area. For more, see Choosing The Best Location for Your Business.
3. Choose a Business Name
The name you choose for your business is something that needs time to be appropriate from the start. Business names rarely change, and you must remember that the one you choose now is the name you will have as long as you own your business. For this important step, see How to Choose a Business Name.
4. Legalizing Your Company
It’s critical to ensure your business is legal and set up correctly for tax purposes and liabilities. For example, a sole proprietorship is the easiest and quickest to set up, but it offers the least protection for your assets and doesn’t offer many tax-saving advantages. See, How to Register your Business for more.
All petting zoos that operate in the United States are normally required to have a Class C Exhibitor’s License issued by the Department of Agriculture. In addition, you may need a Class C license or other exotic animal permits.
You will need to contact the authorities in your area for information on what steps you must take to be issued all required licenses and permits. See Our Page on Licenses and Permits
5. Create Your Corporate ID
A corporate ID consists of components such as; a logo, brochure, business sign, website, stationary, promotional items, and business cards. Your corporate ID is the face of your business and one of the ways your customers identify your company. Therefore, your Corporate Identity must be professionally designed to make a positive impression on your customers.
Corporate ID’s can be expensive, and when starting, you can choose the components you need during the startup phase. Then, you can complete the remaining components as your business expands. See A Complete Introduction to Corporate Identity Packages for more.
6. Estimating Startup Cost
Estimating your startup costs is an important step. If you estimate startup costs on the low side, you will run out of money before you open. On the other hand, if your estimate is too high, it makes it harder to get the funding you need, and when looking at profitability, it could look like a risky venture. So research the costs you need and do your best to plan costs accurately. For more, see, Estimating Startup Costs.
7. Writing a Business Plan
You will want to create a business plan to stay on track and have a roadmap for starting and operating your business. You will need a business plan if you intend on getting investors or require a business loan. There are many options if to creating this important document. If you don’t know how to create one, see How to Write a Business Plan.
8. Set up Your Banking
Choosing a bank and more importantly, developing a relationship with a good banker is a priority. You want a bank in your area, especially if you deal with a lot of cash. You don’t want to keep a lot of cash on hand. You are better off making multiple deposits. You won’t make frequent deposits if your bank is located in a distant area.
As mentioned you want to build a relationship with your banker. They can help you with loan approvals and offer valuable financial advice. The better your relationship, the more they are willing to help when they can.
You’ll also need to set up a merchant account that will allow you to accept credit cards. Many of your customers will want to pay for entry and other items you offer with their debit and credit cards. Without a merchant account, you will have to ask for cash, which is an inconvenience for your customers and will cause you to lose business.
9. Get the Funding for Your Operation
It’s time to get the funds you need to start and operate your business. A lack of funds is one of the main reasons many companies don’t last. Getting a business loan isn’t easy because of the risks involved. Other options include getting investors, selling off assets, using your own money, etc.
You need to secure the funding before moving forward. Starting without the funds you need to open your doors to the public, is a bad idea. Getting some of the money now and then getting the rest after you’ve made progress may seem like the best course of action, but if you don’t get the remaining funds, you won’t be able to proceed and you will lose your investment. See, Getting a Small Business Loan for more.
10. Software Setup
You’ll need various software packages to run your business, such as packages for bookkeeping and products such as Microsoft office. There is also software specializing in zoo operations, to help enhance your visitor’s experience and help you organize your operation. Using the right software will enhance your operations and make running your business easier. Check out Google’s Latest Search Results for Software Packages Related to a Petting Zoo.
11. Get The Right Business Insurance
Insurance is a must for any business. With a Petting zoo, you must have sufficient coverage for your customers. Any incident that may occur can result in a huge cost. You must have sufficient insurance coverage for your customers, employees, and property. Insurance costs are a part of doing business. Make sure you have the cost of insurance in your operating budget.
12. Physical Setup
Depending on the size of your operation, there could be a lot of work to physically set up your petting zoo. You will want to ensure safety first for your customers, employees, and animals. You need to focus on the layout and paths for visitors to follow and visit the animals in your zoo.
You will also want to set up your office correctly because you need an area where you can manage your business. Your office needs to be organized so you can save time and be productive when managing your business. See, Here are Considerations for The Setup of Your Office for the details.
The signage for your zoo is an important part of your setup. If you completed your Corporate ID, you would already have your logo created, and you will want to incorporate your logo into your business sign. For more, see, All About Company Signs.
13. Creating a Website
Your website plays an instrumental role in your business. You use it to connect with your customers. You can provide them with information like hours of operation, and what to expect when customers visit. Marketing can also be done through your website, therefore you want to spend time creating a website that is just right for your business.
You will want to register a domain name and get a reliable web host. Using your own domain and web host gives you control of your online property. Sure you can add pages and accounts on social media like a Facebook page but you don’t have much control over those accounts. Your main online presence should be your website. For more, see How to Build a Website.
14. Create an External Support Team
You need a group of people that are not on your payroll and people you can depend on for advice and services. This group of people includes lawyers, financial advisors, accountants, tech experts, marketers, etc. These are the people that will help you keep your business in operation and help you expand if there is an opportunity. For more, see, Building a Team of Professional Advisors for Your Business.
15. Hiring Employees
In the beginning, you could be planning to do everything yourself, and that’s a good idea and possible with a small operation, but if your business expands, you will need to hire a crew to help you with operations. The cost of a large payroll can be crippling to a business. Therefore, you need to only fill those positions that are necessary. For more, see, How and When to Hire a New Employee.
Next Steps to Evaluate
Getting Customers Through The Door
You now have an overview of the steps you need to take to start your business, and at this point, it’s time to get people to visit. Without customers, all your efforts are wasted. From step one, you researched your target audience and know it’s time to do some marketing. You can look at our article How To Get Customers Through the Door, you’ll find a few ideas you can use.
A Grand Opening
Another way to bring awareness to your petting zoo is to have a grand opening. This is a big event that needs planning and an effective advertising campaign, for people to attend. For the details, see How To Plan a Grand Opening.
There are also numerous articles from A Touch of Business to get the word out, including online as well as offline marketing ideas. See our Marketing Section and explore those techniques that interest you.
A Quick Overview of a Petting Zoo Business
This business offers a variety of niches, including permanent or traveling petting zoos, where you can take your zoo to schools, senior homes, and of course, birthday parties.
It might look good on paper to decide that you want fifteen large animals, but you have to look at the practical aspects of having that many animals to care for daily.
To run a local or mobile petting zoo correctly will take a lot of effort in providing animal care, shelter, and maintaining health standards.
- Cleaning animals
- Maintenance and cleaning of animal corrals and cages
- Feeding and watering
- Veterinary records and shot record keeping
- Providing animal-specific diets
- Experience in animal or veterinary care is a plus
- Monitoring visitor interactions with the animals
- Common Business Skills
Hours of Operation:
Animal care, in general, is a 24/7 job. Hours of operation for visits will vary according to when you’re busy. For example, on weekends, you would probably have extended hours.
Plan to spend about two to four hours feeding all the animals, cleaning their areas, and checking on their health before and after visits and at regular times throughout each day.
Equipment and Supplies
- Pens, cages, corrals
- Truck & Trailer
- An area to set up your zoo
- Rakes, Shovels, Buckets, Gloves, Rope
- Heating and air conditioning units
- First-aid kit
- Trash bags or containers for debris and animal droppings
- Onsite dumpster
- Composting containers
- Essential Office Equipment
Monthly Expenses and Operating Costs To Consider:
- Animal housing
- Animal Care
- Fuel for mobile animal transportation
- Temporary permits if set up on a fairground
- Small Business Expenses
Approximate Minimum Startup Cost:
Naturally, your costs will depend on the size of your operation. For example, a petting zoo in your backyard will cost almost nothing compared to a multi-acre setup. Some of the Costs include; advertising, licenses, permits, the cost of the animals, and insurance coverage. You must also factor in the cost to lease or own the land and barn and set up expenses such as fences.
Tips and Considerations:
- You will want to protect your assets if someone becomes injured while visiting your zoo. Therefore, be sure to purchase the right liability insurance. To do this, contact a qualified insurance broker.
- Adequate space for both the animals and visitors is a must. An acre or two will be significant for a small to a midsize petting zoo.
- Make sure that the land is accessible to the public and that there are no land restrictions near your zoo, especially for exotic zoo operations.
- It is also a good idea to check land and building codes with your state’s zoning department to know certain zoning bylaws. Lastly, ensure that all predatory animals are kept away from their prey to avoid attack or situation. Finally, always do extensive research, and seek the advice and assistance of zoo experts and animal care specialists.
- Create guideposts to direct visitors where they can see all the animals during their tours. Have signs close by with facts and details describing each animal by species. Also, ensure your facility is secure enough to be completely safe for your visitors.
- Always purchase your animals from a licensed vendor. Examine these credentials carefully to ensure they are updated by a government-sponsored organization or state commission. The basic criteria when selecting your animals are that they are people-friendly, are well-behaved around other animals, have been properly cared for by the previous owner, and are disease-free. If you decide to purchase animals for an exotic zoo business, contact your local authorities to secure permits for handling such animals if necessary.
- Always provide your animals with a healthy diet, proper physical fitness, and regular vaccinations. Give them lots of love and nurturing. Pay very close attention to behavior patterns, and watch for signs of odd conduct and unhealthy emotional issues. Address all health concerns immediately as they occur. Completely groom them daily, and keep them as comfortable and happy as possible. Allow them to rest and play when needed.
- Keep your operation sanitary, and ensure that you adjust the temperature settings for your animal facility according to weather conditions. Maintain adequate heating for the cold winter season.
- Starting a mobile petting zoo will need mobile units to transport your animals from one location to the next. You can start by leasing trailers and trucks for tours to schools, private parties, and county fairs. After raising a bit more capital, you should invest in your own trailers and trucks. Make sure they are cleaned regularly, in good mechanical condition, and are properly registered and insured.
Pros and Cons:
- Ideal business for animal lovers
- Excellent side business for farms and ranches
- You get to work outside
- You provide a fun and educational service
- This business is completely expandable
- Minimal competition
- You can be your own boss
- Work tends to slow down during the winter months
- Heavy lifting and hauling machinery of all different types are required
- Caring for sick animals can get extremely costly
- Chance of visitors getting hurt or bitten (hence, high liability insurance costs)
- Many hours of upkeep
- Numerous laws, rules, and regulations to comply with
- Opposition from animal activists
- Zoning laws may restrict the types or numbers of animals you can keep on your property
- High startup cost
The news is one way to stay up to date on what the media is covering related to petting zoos. I like using Google news because it’s quick and is updated constantly. You can even set up a Google alert to device notification any time something new is published. See Google’s news search results related to petting zoos.
Videos are another source of information to gain ideas and get an inside look at established petting zoos. When watching a video on YouTube, the site will display a list of related videos. I find these useful because they are related to topics you may not have considered and are worth looking into.