Monthly Archives: June 2014

How to Keep all the Balls in the Air – A Schedule!

Having a schedule for the process of opening a brewery is huge.  I am not talking a little to do list of what needs to get done and when.  I mean an excel spreadsheet with the major items of starting a brewery in headings and then a timeline of when decisions need to be made.  It is the only way to keep all the balls in the air and make sure you don’t delay in decisions that need to be made, or forget others.

Unfortunately, we have gotten away from our schedule and it has come back to bite us in the ass a little bit.  Let me explain, and hopefully you can create your own so that you don’t have the same thing happen to you.

When I was first writing our business plan, I had a schedule of all the things that I thought we would be doing.  It was really about 30-40 lines of action items, with a date.  Click the link below for a copy of an older schedule that I was using, and while I updated it partially along the way, it was never really a living document.

Schedule for LCBC

What we really needed was a document that my partner and I updated weekly, that was really much more thorough than the one you can view by link.  I would have put various headings like:

  • Sales and Marketing
  • Equipment
  • Retrofit of Warehouse
  • Accounting
  • Raw Materials
  • Electrical
  • etc, etc

Under each of these headings I would have subcategories with all individual items that need to be done.  For instance, under the equipment heading I would have the following:

  • Brewhouse
  • Kegging
  • Packaging
  • Conditioning/fermenting
  • etc, etc

This way we could track all the details that need to get done.  This is really important.  A lot of details can fall through the cracks, so make sure you have a living schedule document that you can refer to on a regular basis.

There are some other benefits to a schedule. It can track timeline for decisions, like getting quotes from suppliers.  A schedule can also set drop-dead dates for decisions, which I highly recommend, as if you delay some decisions they will have a snowballing effect on other decisions.  A schedule can also help to identify who needs to do what in a partner ship.  Having a responsible person for an action might seem redundant, but it can just make sure there is someone doing the work, and not a moment of, “I thought you were doing that!”  Lastly, a schedule can help you sleep at night.  Instead of thinking about all the things you need to do, just go to bed knowing that there is a list, and so long as you keep the schedule up to date, you need not lose sleep.

So next time I start a brewery (insert laughter here), I will be sure to use the schedule like I have used the cash flow, marketing plan and retrofit budget …. as much as I can.  Let this be a lesson for you as well.  Create a schedule and make sure you update and check it weekly.

 

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The Nitty Gritty of Laying out a Floor Plan

When you come along to the choice of laying out your brewery, get ready for a long and winding road.  One that will likely lead you to the wall and back, and also lead you to a place that you never really thought that you would be.  The reality is there are factors involved in your layout that you can think about and plan for, and others that you simply must deal with as they come up.

Before you can even start to work on your layout, there are a million things you will need to go through.  I would start by talking to other breweries, and find out what they like about their layout and what they don’t.  Be sure to ask lots of why questions.  You will also need to figure out how much money you have, as planning for a huge brewery will also mean huge bills.  Other factors include the size of your space and your future plans for growth, among others.

One of the most important components to think about in your layout is completely dependent on what you are doing, and what your goals are.  For instance, if you want to follow in the footsteps of Brassneck Brewing, or other breweries that are just selling their product in their own retail space, you will have a much different layout than if you want to be a production brewery, like Coal Harbour.  For us, we wanted to be somewhere in the middle, which is likely what you want to do as well.

So the elevator version of how you layout your space goes like this:

  1. Lease space
  2. Walk through and work with architect to understand ins and outs of space
  3. Build business plan around this space
  4. Determine amount of finances needed
  5. Get first plan from architect

After you get the first floor plan from the architect, you will officially begin a journey that will likely last about 6 months, and involve head scratching, high-fives and deep lows.  At the end of it, you will hopefully get a floor plan that is not too much of a compromise  and enough of what you had in mind at the beginning of things.

Think about the process for a second.  Lets say you have 3 places you can put the brew house.  Each of these areas has pros and cons.  It is truly a prisoners dilemma.  You can have things in the optimal place, you can have it done quickly, you can have it done under budget, and you can have it for the best place for your future growth, but maybe you will get 2 of these things, but likely just 1.  What do you pick and why?

Once you agonize over the location, you then need to start figuring how all the ancillary services and equipment will get to the location.  This is no small task and will involve the help and advice of your architect.  Once you then figure these basics out, you will actually need to order your equipment.  You will know what configuration you want for your brew house, and how it connect into the footprint you have created, but then this another level of questions.

Think about some of the minutiae needed:

  • Where do you want the drains
  • Where do you want water and electrical services
  • Where do you want the grain hopper
  • Where do you want the slopes and what angle

Once you figure these things out, there is another level of detail.  And I am talking exact detail …. down to the millimetre.  For instance if you are going to put your brewhouse in position A, where exactly is the drainage pipe going to go.  That means you have to work it out with the manufacturer of your equipment where this is exactly, and then map it out on your floor plan, so your mechanical contractor can give you the drain exactly where it needs to be.  Getting this kind of stuff wrong can make your life a nightmare.  And this example is just for the brewhouse. The same also goes for all the other functional areas of a brewery.

All of this means that you need to have an attention to detail.  If you leave this kind of stuff to others, you are relying on their knowledge and effort, and that may or may not work out for you.  There are literally hundreds of decisions like this to make when you are building and developing your floor plan.  Make sure you put an effort in that will give you exactly what you want.

We have found that we are making decisions over and over.  It might be annoying for others, like our sub-trades or architect …. ok it is definitely annoying for them, but I can’t see the process carrying out any other way.  How could you not change what you want over and over when it comes to something so complicated like building a brewery.

So back to the original question:  What factors are important.  I would narrow the list down to 5 things:

  1. Planning for future growth
  2. The location and interaction of your tasting room to production
  3. Inherent issues, characteristics and flow of your warehouse
  4. Budget
  5. Maximal use of space

If you can focus on these things, then your floor plan should end up in a good spot.  Not unlike building a house, there are always going to  be things that you would change, but the balance between current and future needs, along with finances will most likely determine exactly what ends up going where.  In the meantime, if you have questions or concerns, Iain is a master of this kind of thing, so give him a call.

 

Quick Update on Things …

I think back to the days when we were first getting started with the brewery, and I can’t help but think how much time I had to do things.  It didn’t seem like I had a lot of free time, but in reality I did.  What I really had was the ability to get on top of things, which I have completely lost now. Let me try to explain.

When you first start writing your plan, you have time to dream, think about your beers, your brand, name, etc.  It is a natural part of things, and something that if we didn’t do, we wouldn’t be doing this.  As time moves on, you tend to get to more of the meat of the operation, and you need to start figuring out some details.  As time progresses, you think you have figured out a lot of the details of your space.  Things like brewhouse, packaging size, general location of warehouse.  You think you have made a lot of these decisions, but you haven’t.

You continue to work on your business plan, making what you think are decisions and changes of direction …. and then you do it.  You find a space to lease and you take possession.  This is when it starts to really happen.  You actually start making decisions, like general contractor, architect, brewhouse size, etc.  You think you are doing well, because you have made actual and concrete decisions.

What you don’t realize, is that you have only started on the tip of the iceberg.  There are thousands of decisions to make.  None of them are more or less important than any of the others.  Think of details such as these:  Size of cooler door to the inch, length of drainage trenches down to the inch, slope on concrete pour down to the degree, exact location of trade waste interceptor, etc, etc.  There is so many small decisions to make, it can become overwhelming.

Coming full circle, each of these decisions take time, and trust me when I say, you have very little of it.  Your funnel at the top is getting loaded faster than you can empty it.  About a year ago, you could pound out a good 60 hour week and be back on top of everything, but that is a pipe-dream now.  A 60 hour week will only mean that I have about 300 hours of unfinished work sitting around waiting for me to complete.  There is no way of catching up short-term, it is a matter of prioritizing and getting small jobs done.

Add to all this the work around the brewery.  I have been tying rebar and working around the brewery 7 days a week for the past few weeks, and there is still so much to do.  Take for example a typical day in my life.

  • Get up at 5am to 530am
  • Work in front of my computer until 745am
  • Get kids off to school and lunches made 830 to 9am
  • Drive into brewery to do work 930am
  • Manual labour all day at brewery until about 930 am to 3pm
  • Home to do work in front of my computer (accounting, marketing, business planing, etc) 330pm to 5pm
  • Down time, hang with family, 530pm to 8pm
  • After kids in bed, back to computer for more work 8pm to 11pm
  • Off to bed to do it again

This is a pretty standard day, and I know one that my partner also goes through.  If you are going to open a brewery, and you want to take an active role in starting it, be prepared for a day like this.

What you will find is that how badly you really want to do this will go a long way to making the above feel like work, versus feeling like a dream.  Luckily for Iain and I, the long days are a dream and the passion is burning brighter than ever, so we know we have made the right decision.

Best Practices … Writing a Business Plan

I spent the night on Sunday at Hoppapalooza, one of the best events for Vancouver Craft Beer Week, hosted by the amazing Alibi Room.  I had the chance to speak with many amazing people at party, many of whom gave me great suggestions and advice on what choices to make with our brewery.  I was asked numerous questions about our business and starting a brewery, which I found very interesting and flattering.  One of the questions I was asked several times throughout the night, was about writing a business plan.  It is also one of the questions that I get asked most often via email, by way of this blog.

So instead of going on and on about the business plan, what to put into it and what not to put into it, I figured it would be best to just give a few pointers and then a list of important points to consider when creating one.

  1. Start with the end in mind:  Yes, this is one of Stephen Coveys 7 habits of highly effective people, but I have always liked this point.  So in other words, what are you going to use the business plan for?  Your answer to this question will directly effect the scope of your plan.  A plan to just figure out your operations might be a little different than one aimed at investors.
  2. Put more into it, get more out of it:  Our business plan was a real labour of love.  We put excessive amounts of time and energy into our plan, as both Iain and I have personalities that make us overly fastidious about this kind of thing.  So we spent a lot of time making sure that we planned every detail, and projected every scenario, good and bad.
  3. No matter what, this is your roadmap:  We refer to our business plan on a regular basis, and it has become a living document for our business.  The great thing about having a plan is that it also allows any difference in opinion you may have with your partner to be vetted.  Moreover, the roadmap ensures that when you opinion changes in the future on something, you can judge it against a baseline, of what you once thought.
  4. Plan for about 6 months minimum:  I can’t see how you could write a well thought out business plan in less time than this.  Our business plan was a solid 12 months of writing, and then about 2 years of reviewing and revising every component of it.  By the end of the 2 years, our plan had completely changed several times over to become what it is now.  Moving forward, our plan will surely continue to change, and each time, we will take the time to update the details, so that our roadmap stays accurate.
  5. Its all about the financials:  Your cash flow is the most important part of the business plan.  It has to be realistic and it has to prove that you can make money quickly and consistently.  If you financials don’t add up, then you need to re-evaluate what you are doing  and the approach you are taking.  Our cash flow has become a monster, and it is something that without, we would be lost.
  6. Keep it short and sweet:  No matter what, but out all the crap.  Your plan should be no more than 25 pages written and about 25 exhibits.  For your financial projections, create a high, low and medium.  Shoot for the stars with your high projections …. say Parallel 49 or Driftwood.  Aim for realistic on the medium …. say Powell Street or Coal Harbour.  Seriously tank on the low, so you know what could happen …. say Surgenor or other under performing brewery.  The low will get you out of bed at 5am, the high will keep you dreaming of what could be, and the medium is likely where you will end up (I think).
  7. Don’t use we, use your company name:  Maybe this is just a stylistic thing or my personal preference, but you are not talking about you, or your life.  You are discussing a business that you may or may not be a part of down the line.  According to your lawyer and accountant, your business is an entity unto itself, so refer to it that way.
  8. Have sub plans for various facets:  We have a marketing plan that is about 25 pages, and a production plan, that is also about 25 pages, along with a few other plans we are working on.  Each of these detailed plans will be shortened and augmented to fit within your plan.  Just put a note in that section of the business plan, that there is more information if the reader so desires.
  9. Non-disclosure:  You may be handing out your business plan more than you think, so you will need to decide who needs to sign a NDA and who doesn’t.  From what I read, anyone that is a seasoned investor, don’t bother asking them to sign one.  It will be insulting.  But for others who are already in the business, or locals who you might think will tell the world what you have planned, it is your call.  We really never had anyone sign our NDA, other than some local brewery owners who we were going to partner with (but didn’t) several years ago.
  10. Prepare a presentation:  Maybe not if you don’t need any investors, but for those of you who need outside investment in your brewery, create a power point presentation of your plan, and summarize the key points.  Make sure you let the people know what is in it for them.  They will always want to know what they will get in return for allowing you to use their hard earned money.  Practice your presentation over and over, until you feel at ease.  Make sure you try it out on a few people before you go to any actual investors.
  11. Prepare to get rejected:  I didn’t track all my failures as much as could have, but I will tell you that I met with about 50 people over the course of 18 months, and we have only about 10 investors in our brewery.  That meant I had a 1 in 5 success rate.  You may be much better than this, but no matter what, expect some people to pass on your opportunity.  Don’t take it personally, ask a lot of questions why they didn’t go with you, and learn so that you can minimize this moving forward.
  12. Be proud, positive and confident:  I am overly realistic, so one of my biggest challenges was that I didn’t sugar coat anything for anyone.  I never promised that we would make it, never promised riches at the end of the journey, so if things did go off the rails, I would have my conscious clear.  However, you can still be proud and positive about what you are doing.  In fact, this is super important.  No one else will believe in you, if you don’t believe in yourself.
  13. Use a business plan guide:  I have my business plan guide in storage, so I can’t tell you which one I used, but be sure to have a guide that will help walk you through each of the key facets of your business plan.  A guide explains all the details that you need to know, and will help you determine how to best write your plan.  I have written a total of 4 business plans in my lifetime, and I still wouldn’t consider writing a business plan without some sort of guide to help write the plan.

So that is my best practices on writing a business plan.  I will gladly send you a copy of my business plan, should you want to see what we created.  Just send me a message.  Best of luck, and writing a business plan can be a lot of fun, so make sure you prepare yourself for an amazing journey.