By TANIA KARAS
The $8 billion ice cream industry has experienced a sales chill in recent years, but experts say investors with a taste for the right treat can still profit. Trendy brands like Pinkberry and Red Mango, for instance, have helped frozen-yogurt revenues jump nearly 25 percent since 2006. Opening a scoop shop requires at least $175,000, and most successful ventures start turning a profit of about 20 percent within two years, says ice cream business consultant Malcolm Stogo. Outfits that churn their own flavors need more capital for labor and machinery, but pros say it can be a competitive advantage. Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, in Columbus, Ohio, for one, scooped up $9 million in revenue -- and a tidy profit -- last year with its homemade flavors. "If we bought some cheap ice cream, we wouldn't have lines out the door," says founder Jeni Britton Bauer.
Still, franchises tend to be more successful than small businesses -- though they can also cost nearly twice as much. National chain Cold Stone Creamery helps owners with planning and logistics, and says shops post an average of $340,000 in annual sales. But potential owners may need to put their social lives in the deep freeze: Most ice cream is sold during evenings and on weekends.