Category Archives: Best Practices

15 Days to go …. The importance of Pre-Inspections

Whenever possible, if you are starting a brewery, or any other business for that matter, I would suggest always get a pre-inspection inspection.  Having someone come through ahead of when you need your inspection will not only tell you what you need to fix, but also show them (if they are going to eventually do your final inspection) that you are trying to get things correct.

We did this with our electrical, and we are doing this with our Coastal Health inspection.  Getting the inspection ahead of time will provide us a with a real list of things that we need to complete, so that when it comes time to get our final, we should (in theory) be good to go.

Inspectors are an important part of the process, as all the work you have done rushing to get to opening day can be lost if you start spinning your wheels on your inspections.  Ask Dave at Powell Street Brewing, as they took about an extra 3 weeks to open because they kept getting new things to do from their inspectors.  It makes it really hard as a business trying to get off the ground, if you keep getting new things to complete and finish prior to being allowed to open for business.

Anyhow, just a little advice for everyone.

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21 Days to go …. The Importance of an Amazing Team

This post is key for everyone that is looking to start a brewery.  Get a kick ass team around you.  Don’t make quick decisions on these areas, and I would focus on the following as key:

  • Electrician
  • Mechanical
  • Engineer (Structural, Electrical and Mechanical)
  • General Contractor
  • Architect
  • Accountant
  • Lawyer
  • Banker
  • Landlord
  • Business Partner
  • Graphic Designer
  • Equipment Suppliers

Of all these things on the list 1 stands out as the most important.  Can you guess which one it is?  Of course you know its the business partner.  Having a great partner can make everything else seem like nothing much or something substantial.  For us, we only screwed up on one of these major categories, and it really came back to bite us in the rear-end.  I would hate to think if we made bad decisions on more than one of these.  Our lives would have easily gone from manageable to a nightmare very quickly.

At various times throughout this process, we have been supported by these people.  The true sign of a great team member, is someone who is honest, supports you when you need the help, and is willing to work with a changing job.  You will change direction thousands of times throughout the process.  Having a group of trades people that is understanding of this and won’t gouge you is really important.  There will be change orders, and its how they are dealt with that really matter.

There is one person not on the list that one could say is even more important than a good business partner, and that is a good life partner.  Having someone who supports you when you need it, kicks you in the ass at other times, is huge.   My wife has supported me in every way imaginable throughout this process.  Without her, I can’t imagine what I would have done.  Hopefully you have someone like this in your life, as it is crucial to success IMO.

So kind of a fluffy post today, but I didn’t really have any other option, as I am falling asleep at the computer here.  Off to bed very shortly and up 4am to get cracking at our bookkeeping.  Not the most glamorous thing in the world, but pretty darn important.

36 days out … Use a Notebook and to do list!

Of the many things this process has taught me, there are several that stand out as key learnings overall.  Its hard to say how one should practice for these things, but likely knowing about them, reading books about them, and talking with others about them are a huge help.

The first thing that I have learned is how to get things done.  I feel like I have always been quite productive in my life.  Not quite sure where I got this, but ever since I turned 30, I have increasingly become a highly productive machine.  To that end, one of the best books I read for preparing for this venture was Getting Things Done by David Allen.  You will not be disappointed if you make the time to read this book.  It will help you be more productive with your days, and organize your life to stay on top of all the details.

Another trait that I knew was deep inside me, but never really exposed is an ability to work long hours with little sleep.  Normally, I am a high energy guy, so when it comes to sleep I like to get 7 hours of bed time a night.  Continuing to exercise and stay fit means that sleep is important.  However, for the past couple months, this has been shaved down to about 5.5 – 6 hours per night, with one night a week at 12.  I find I am capable of this, definitely a little more grumpy, unhappy, etc, but that should be expected.  Find your ability to work long and hard, and you will be in a good position to succeed.

One last trait, one that might just possibly be the most important trait is the ability to not get overwhelmed by the gravity of this situation.  Really, this is one of the most stressful and intense situations an average person could go through, and with the help of friends and family, I have managed to stay positive and on track.  If you have a tough time dealing with stress and multi-tasking, you will need to either take course, read or learn to deal with this possibility.

Another huge help is always having a notebook that contains a to do list.  Make sure you cross things out when they are complete, so you can get the satisfaction of accomplishing something. To do lists are key as are notebooks with all your notes from meetings and discussions.  I can’t tell you how many times I have referenced the book to find something I have been looking for.

Until next post, keep on keeping on!

37 Days Out …. Tasting Room Details

With the changes to tied-house and the ability to have a tasting room and retail area within the brewery, there has been a paradigm shift in the way breweries in BC construct their operations. For a long time, many spaces just took a little retail area, cobbled together a small bar and sold their beer.  However, led by Main Street Brewing, Brassneck and 33 Acres, there is a new breed of tasting rooms that have fundamentally altered the model we are all following.

We have benefited from starting our brewery at a time when these tasting room areas are now allowed in Vancouver by-laws, and as such, we have focused a lot of resources and energy on building and designing this space.  We hope to make it everything we would want in a tasting room.  We have learned a few lessons along the way and it seems right to pass them along.  I have written posts in the past that relate to the tasting room, but this has the best nuggets of information in one place.

Some random thoughts on designing and building your tasting room:

  • Keep the cooler close to the bar, so your beer doesn’t have to travel a long distance to get to the tap.  Pretty self explanatory here.
  • Balance the area between tasting room and retail area.  We have a little retail area on both halves of the tasting room, which means our space seems a little bigger than it is in reality.  This might be a good thing some days and a bad thing on others.
  • Make sure your retail area and tasting room is a reflection of yourself.  Iain and I had a tough time with this, as we see things through pretty different lenses.  I am more modern and Iain is more traditional.  Our space, like our brand and everything else we do, is a amalgamation of both our opinions and preferences.
  • Plan out the flow of people.  Nothing worse than having a space that is hard to move around in when you are busy.  Think about bathroom locations, and also the layout of the retail area, and how it interacts with the bar.
  • Location, separation and number of tap handles for pouring the beer is super important.  We have gone with 2 sets, that Iain can tell you all the specifics on.  Essentially we had Bamford bar service install the lines and taps, and we followed much of their guidance on this.
  • Plan to spend a bunch of money in the tasting room.  The best way to save cash in this area is to do a lot of the work yourself and also to keep it simple.  We will end saving a lot of money, as we found salvaged wood from a few different places, and used materials from our job site in the construction of different parts of the tasting room.
  • Take your time planning the bar.  We went through this over and over on how to layout the bar.  Go see what others are doing, think about all the things you will need in a bar, and also how your space will function, down the to the last detail.  I am talking cash drawer, POS, line-ups, etc. etc.
  • Get a metal fabricator for stainless that is CSA approved.  We used a metal fabricator that is not, which is fine, except when it comes to putting in your sink, which you will need to find a metal fabricator to do that is CSA approved.

I am sure I could find a lot of other things that may or may not be worthy of putting onto this list, but this seems pretty good for now.  I am pretty tired, so need to get some sleep.  We are looking at a crew of about 3 guys 8-10 weeks to finish our tasting room.  That is a lot of work, time and energy they have expended, which also means it is expensive, so try to get everything right you can the first time.

General Ramblings

A lot of the things we have been planning for sometime now are taking shape.  The big decisions we had to make early on have all been made, and now we are left to make them all fit within the scope of this project, which is changing a daily basis.  As such, things like tap location, size of custom cabinetry, location of bar sinks, and hundreds of other little decisions need to be looked at.

We have made many errors both big and small along the way, as making so many decisions is bound to result in a bad decision or 2 ….. or 20!  So here are the mistakes we have made that come to the top of my mind, and things you should be mindful of not doing.

  1. Make sure you agree to delivery dates for equipment and services provided to your brewery.  If you don’t have specified drop-dead dates, you can’t hold people to a timeframe in getting things done.  For example, if your website needs to be created by June 1st, but you don’t have this in your contact with your web designer, then you are left with no recourse should things take longer.
  2. The marathon of this is truly day in and day out a grind.  I love what I am doing, and it is a passion and dream all rolled into one, but it is still a grind.  The first 6 months seem to go by quickly, and your energy reserves are used, the next 6 months you have moments of highs and lows, and then the next 6 months hit.  I would say this is where we are.  We don’t celebrate our accomplishments enough, we are knee deep in financial duress, and we are about 2-3 months away from making any money.  Take 1 day off a week, as it will do your mind good.
  3. Its better to have stuff arrive when you need it, not before or after.  This is virtually impossible, but getting a big piece of equipment early is in a way just as bad as getting it early.  Get your stuff delivered when you need it, and shade a little to the earlier side of things.
  4. There is an endless amount of forms you need to fill out for the Government, so always keep on top of this.  I try to spend a couple hours a week reviewing our progress and making sure we are doing all that we can to keep these things moving forward.
  5. Schedule meetings wit your partner.  I can’t tell you how many times my partner and I try to meet about something and it gets interrupted or cut short because of something else.  We are realizing it might be best to have meetings elsewhere that are important.  Planning the business is more important than working in the business
  6. Finding time to do social media is the hardest thing some days.  When you are working on building a brewery, your free time evaporates and days just cruise by.  Always find time to connect with people on social media.  For some that is doing it as the day goes on, and for me that means doing it twice per day.  We have learned so much from others, and connected with so many great people, it would be a shame not to have done this.
  7. Include your landlord in decisions that effect the building.  If you have an amazing landlord like we do, they will want to be a part of things, so it is important to let them have some say.  After all, it is their building and your business is their business.
  8. Always have a plan B ready for action, especially when it comes to your financials and marketing.  Getting stuck with one idea, or one way of doing things is a real challenge in any aspect of this process.  It evolves so much, that it is much better to wave in the wind like a flag and go with the flow.
  9. You will need money, lots of money, and you will likely need more as the process goes on.  If you think you are different than everyone else who has started a business, or undertaken a massive renovation, then do so at your own peril.  We thought we would be good after 4 or 5 revisions to our budget, only to have the wrench of a delay resulting in us needing more money.  My advice would be to research as much as possible, and leave a bucket of money with about 15% of your overall budget to get to day 1 so that you can mitigate these risks.
  10. Marketing needs to represent who you are.  Since we are a team of 2, it is harder to get this right, as we are both very different in what we like.  Also, we wanted something other than what represented who we were for some time.  Once we decided to go with our gut, we found a path to happiness and cool branding, representative of our beliefs and opinions.
  11. If you are having a tasting room like us, the front of the house is a big enigma that is full of unknowns and expensive items.  Walk carefully through this minefield.  We messed up tap locations, counter top height, layout, approval process, etc.  A lot can go wrong so make sure you think this through.
  12. Don’t forget about these electronic items/systems:  POS ($5,000) AV ($2,500) Security system ($1,500) and CCTV ($4,000).  They add up to a lot, but we couldn’t imagine not getting these things right.  Also, try to include these items on your electrical contractors scope of work early on, as it will save you $$$.
  13. Spend too much money on non-critical things.  Don’t spend a lot of money on a forklift, but get a used one.  Don’t pay any of your carpenters to clean up at $55 per hour, do it yourself. Don’t get a bin until you are ready for it, do a couple dump runs on your own.  You get the idea.

I am sure throughout today, I will make 10 decisions with my partner, 7 of which we get right, 1 we are not so sure about and 2 that are wrong … only we won’t know it until some later point.  The point is sometimes you need take your time and make the right decision, and others you need to make any decision, just make one immediately to keep things moving forward.  The key is to think about when key decisions need to be made, and factor that into your approach.  If a decision doesn’t need to made, take a day to sleep on it.

I am sure I would be able to add about 10 more things to this list if I had the time or more mental horsepower right now.  Hopefully you can add more to this list via the comments below. Thanks for reading and until my next entry.

Its official, we are going to be delayed in opening …

We received some disappointing news about a week ago!  We have been synthesizing what it means and how it will impact our business, but more importantly what we can do to mitigate the risk we are going to experience.  It looks like we are going to push our opening day from late October to December 1st.

We know how people really hate a company saying one thing, and then going about their business only to do something else.  It was not our intention, and to those people who have been following closely, we are sorry.  Not unlike anyone else, it was never our intention to put a date out there that we couldn’t make.  We tried to keep our foot on the gas pedal, while being realistic with our expectations.  We lost quite a bit of time at different points, considering the number of trades we had coordinate and the size and scope of our retrofit.  I have written about managing the schedule, working with a contractor and other items around the build in the past, so I won’t rehash those again.

This I know as true:  The bigger your build, the more expensive your build will be and the longer your build will take.  I would use the analogy of having both the wind and tide against your boat, where the wind is money and the tide is time.  The sum of these 2 problems becomes greater than each part.  Let me try to explain, when you have a bigger build than you expect, it will cost more than you budgeted because of the size of all your work gets bigger.  Like longer electrical wire runs, mechanical runs, more concrete, etc.  What also happens is it takes longer to build, which means you will need more money in getting to day 1.  No matter what you pay for lease, insurance, wages, etc on a monthly basis, whether you are ahead or behind the schedule.

Getting back on topic, some components to our build will be delayed by about a month.  So instead of having these items in place to move things along, our build-out of the brewery will be measurably slowed because of this delay.  It is crushing and cruel all at the same time.  All the effort we have put into beating drop-dead dates, the overtime we have paid to our construction crew, and the early mornings and late nights we have experienced all seem for not right now.

The biggest impact of this delay will be to our finances.  Instead of having the money we need to make it to day 1, we are now going to dilute our company, and raise more money.  There is no creative accounting that can make up for a 1 month loss of revenue, while still experiencing many of the fixed and variable costs our business will come up against.  We don’t quite know what options are available to us, but hopefully we can find a solution that keeps us afloat and allows us to make it to day 1 intact.

So I guess the good news is that I will keep blogging, as I seem to have a little more time on our hands.  More importantly, we can stop rushing so many decisions in order to make sure we make the correct choice.   I plan on blogging about a few other things, all of which will help with people who are following our path.

 

50 days out update … this may be my last

For a long time this blog has been a pleasure to write.  I enjoyed going over my notes of things, and putting that into the greater community.  The response and positive energy I received along the way was amazing and helped encourage me to continue writing, especially at times that I was either tired or busy (which seems like all the time).  About 2 months ago, the blog started becoming more of a burden, as the amount of time I spent working at the brewery and on my computer increased weekly.  Add in a complete gut of a house my wife and I purchased, and all of a sudden all of my free time evaporated.  Poof!

So given the state of my personal and professional life, and for the sanity and health of my family life and longevity in business, I have made the decision to free myself from the burden of having to write this blog.  Rather than see a note pop up in my calendar every Sunday night to write a blog post, I have removed the reminder from my calendar, and will let things run their course.  For those of you who follow my blog with regularity, feel free to email me with questions you have.  Also, I promise to continue taking my notes, and should I not find the time to blog about this process until the day we open, I will catch up afterwards.  That way this process will be complete.

So for now, this last blog post may actually be 4 or 5 posts rolled into one, as I update all the different aspects of starting a craft brewery that happen about 2 months out from opening.

Brewhouse:  Ideally, you will have your brewhouse arrive about 60 days prior to opening,  Definitely make sure you put any coatings on your floor.  Also make sure you have your installation procedure decided well in advance.  I am sure by this point you know what you are doing, but it had to be said.

Tank Farm:  Big or small, your tank farm should also be in about 60 days prior to opening, most ideally just before or just after your brewhouse goes in.  Be sure to have your Glycol system scheduled for installation, which needs to be done before you can move your tanks into position.  Also plan for your unloading of tanks for the truck and installation into position.  This can be a really finicky process that needs an experienced touch.

Kegs:  You ideally would get these delivered with about 30 days to go until opening.  Getting them delivered too soon (like we did) means you lose valuable real estate in your brewery that could be used for some other things.  More on use of real estate later.  At the end of the day, get the kegs early, but not too early.

Electrical:  If you are getting major upgrades as we are, make sure you the majority of the work done as soon as possible.  Don’t use an electrician who doesn’t commit to getting things completed by certain dates.  More important than saving a few thousand is someone who works with your schedule, and is always ahead of the game.

Mechanical:   I could literally write the same thing again for this heading that I did for electrical.  Make sure the work gets completed when there is the space and option of doing it.  Never wait for stuff to get done.

Marketing:  Holy crap, the marketing becomes a beast by this point in time.  The decisions you make mean the brand you are creating is formally taking shape.  The big important decisions are long complete, but there are a million and one details.  And the saying goes that the devil is in the details.  Some of the important balls in the air right now are:  Website, content for website, business cards, merchandise, increasing social media presence, glasses, sell sheets, coasters, keg labels, etc.  I would say marketing at this point will likely be taking you about 15 hours per week if you are doing anything similar to us.

Tasting Room:  This is one of the last things to get finished, as the production equipment needs to prioritized, but certainly by now the tasting room is well on its way to completion.  You are definitely making the finer decisions now on this.  Things like designing tables, finishing of walls, merchandise area, etc are all needing decisions to keep things moving forward.  We are about to start on construction of a bar, and I can tell you that there are a lot of factors that go into putting this together, and I promise to one day blog about it.

Accounting:  By now, I hope you have figured out a system for managing your books.  It is easily something that gets left, and before you know it, your GST reporting is due, and instead of a few hours work, you have 3 days worth of book keeping to catch up on.  Dave at Powell Street Brewing gave me the recommendation early to do your accounting every 2 weeks, and while I haven’t yet gotten to that frequency, I can see why he recommends it.

Organizing Trades:  We are sooooo thankful we have a general contractor.  Trying to organize and manage the schedule is a full time job, and one that we couldn’t have imagined not having the support of Graham Disher and his fine team.  They have helped us immeasurably every step along the way, and we are firm believers that paying someone to help is the best move we made.  Organizing trades and their schedule is so important as you come down to this point, as when things get done (or not) has a cascade on all the other things that have to happen after.  Any delays means a delay to every subsequent job.

Cold Room:  After going through the building of a cold room, we are really happy we did this, but man, we think getting a prefab cooler would be a lot better choice next time.  I know we will get exactly what we want and need, but the process of building a cooler is an expensive one, that takes a lot of time, and draws people away from other tasks they could be completing.  Depending on your space and the size of a cooler you need, strongly consider a pre-fab.

Cash Flow:  Hopefully you are meeting your budget, but most likely you are not.  This is where you need to make a decision if you have investors.  Do you take a bigger loan to cover your shortfall or do you raise more money.  In about another month we are going to be pressed with this decision, as we will be out of money.  Managing your cash flow until you get open is the most important part of this process and one that you need to keep on top of constantly.

Government Stuff:  Make sure you keep on top of all the interactions you have with government.  You can easily drop the ball on this one, and the resulting error could be catastrophic to your business.  In British Columbia the government has a website that itemizes all the things you need to do and I suggest you refer to this consistently.

Hiring of staff:  About 50 days out you need to figure out your staffing situation, and start getting ready to hire people.  For us that means people in the brewery and also in our tasting room.  We have been dragging our heels on this one, so do as I say and not as I do.

Other General stuff of note:

Use of Real Estate:  During the process of building a brewery, as you reach about 2 months out, your space is a mess.  There are a hundred things inside your brewery that are at various states of completion, which means there is a lot of stuff sitting in different areas.  For us, even though we are in 9,000 square feet, we are running out of room to put stuff.  We have kegs, barrels, packaging, tanks, wood, plywood, insulation, drywall, tools, work stations, etc taking up space all over.  My advice would be to work on being organized as best you can from day 1.  Don’t let the mess and organization become an issue, as it can overwhelm you.

Manage your Expectations:  I am someone who was raised by a very European father, who was adamant that we were never late for things.  While I am not 100% on time, I do think that making a scheduled deadline is important.  When it comes to something as complex as starting a brewery, just plan for 7 months of building if your size is 6,000 square feet or smaller.  And if you are over 6,000 square feet like us, plan for 8-9 months of building.  I know you will always be able to point to examples that go against this timeline, but do so at your own peril.  Just expect things to go wrong and problems to come up that add time.

Manage your sleep and stress:  For me, a lack of sleep goes hand in hand with being more prone to stress.  To give you an idea, right now I am working about 75 hours a week.  I easily work 12 hours per day 6 days per week, and I do try and take a 1/2 day off on the 7th day of the week.  The 2 things that I hate to lose is my sleep and my exercise.  If I do, I get more stressed, grumpy and unhappy.  So for me, I need to continue to exercise (a lot less intensely with all the physical work at the brewery) and get my 6.5 hours of sleep a night.  Any less than that, and I start to burnout.

Celebrate:  If you don’t stop once and while to celebrate the process, you will miss out on the process of following your dreams.  We are all following our dreams when you start a brewery, and if you don’t take a moment to recognize this, then the process will be less rewarding.

Decisions are now to save time or save money:  The process of making decisions has gone from really taking your time and agonizing over the details, to one that is marked by a lack of research and a plethora of going with your gut.  We are still trying to save money as we always have, but now there is a healthy dose of getting decisions made.  In fact, I would say the first question we usually ask is which option is the quickest?

Stay connected with your partner(s):  It is really easy to divide out a job and then not keep in good enough contact with your partner.  We are all guilty of this, but make sure you take time every day to speak with anyone that needs to be part of a decision.  It also helps to have a master sheet schedule, as I have talked about before, so you can itemize the decisions you need to make, who is doing it, and when the drop-dead date is.

Hopefully, with all this stuff going on you can understand why I am going to blog if and only if I have time over the next 50 days.  My to do list is insane, and I can’t keep up with all the items that need decisions.  I hope you understand!  As such, I am going to take off and get some of these things done.  Until next time …. and always email me with any questions.