Category Archives: Financial

Another general update on progress and happenings at the Brewery!

It seems like I have been knee deep in the process of starting a brewery, that I have neglected to update the readers on our progress.  From the brewhouse to tanks, and forklifts to logos, there is a lot happening at the brewery, and the level of activity seems to have picked up.  In addition to the office and administrative items that have kept us busy for the past 6 months, you can add in the retrofit of our space to things to do.

For starters, Iain Hill has officially left his position at Yaletown Brewing Company to join operations full time.  For several months Iain has been burning the midnight oil after a long day at the office, and he now has the ability to focus on starting our brewery, which is amazing on many levels.  Finding a brewery (and in my case a business partner and equal) is a huge step in the process of starting a brewery.  Its one thing to be a home brewer like many of you.  You understand some of the components of brewing beer, and you have experience with the lingo and terminology, but its entirely another thing to be in charge of a commercial brewery.  With a qualified partner, the beer we make will be of good enough quality that it will offer us a chance to have success.  If you want to follow Iain Hill on twitter, his account can be found here.

We have sent out tenders for our warehouse to electrical and mechanical contractors.  This has been a bit of a process for us.  When you apply for building permit, you have a sense of where things are going to go, and this is reflected in the drawings your architect prepares for you.  However, when it comes to the technical details of these aspects of the brewery, you engage with mechanical and electrical engineers to complete these drawings.  Getting the details correct on these drawings is critical to getting accurate quotes from trades people that will be doing the work.  If you hand over a set of drawings for tender and they change immensely, you will get dinged for additional expenses throughout the build-out phase.  My advice would be to push ahead with these drawings at every opportunity, so that when you get your building permit, you are not at a standstill like we were.  We will literally lose a month from our possible start-date as we were not ready the next step.

Doing things in the brewery that don’t need a permit is also something that is very important.  We have decided to paint the inside walls of the brewery with a marine grade paint, to keep mould from becoming a problem.  Well painting a house is a job, but painting 6 metre high walls in a brewhouse that is 9,000 square feet is a little bigger of a job.  This is something that we really should have started earlier as well, but given the delays in getting started with the rest of the work, we will have this finished within the week.  Once the walls are painted we can move forward with cutting floors open, and getting our brewery ready for building.

If you ever need advice on buying a forklift, I can tell you that we had a great experience and I would love to share it with you.  At the end of the day, when you are spending so much money on everything at a brewery, trying to save money on items like forklifts can go a long way.  We managed to save about $5,000 against our budget, and while that will get sucked up quickly elsewhere, the point is you need to save money when and where you can.  We had a budget of $10,000 for a forklift, charger, and man cage (for doing work on the ceiling of the brewery).  After about 30 hours of work, research and seeing what the options were, we purchased an electric forklift that will hopefully meet all our needs for now and into the future.  Sure we might have to spend money on repairs, but we are not going to lose much money on this machine as it already has depreciated to nothing.  If you are looking; side shift, electric drive, 40 inch forks, 180 inch lift height, and a smart charger that is compatible with your machine are all must haves.

In terms of the voting on our logo, it looks the voting has ended up at 50-50!  After all that, we have a divided opinion on what we should be going ahead with!  As such, Iain and I are going to meet and make a decision on what we should move forward with.  We look forward to making a decision so that we can move forward with other aspects of our marketing.

Our landing page for the website should be up and running in about a week.  I know there has been delays (like everything it seems), but we hope to have an interesting landing page that will continue with giving everyone a sneak peak into starting a brewery and our operations.  More to come on that front shortly.

I have found an individual that has helped me with odd jobs at the brewery so far, and I would recommend to anyone else who is looking at starting a brewery, to find someone with some technical background in general labour … what I mean is find someone to help you that can do some electrical, plumbing, painting, heavy lifting, etc.  We have found a man to help us, and he has been a saviour for us.

From an equipment standpoint, we have ordered our brewhouse and we are very close to ordering our packaging equipment and conditioning/fermenting tanks.  We are trying to determine exactly packaging equipment we want, as the choice we make will help determine our entry point into the market.  If you go cans, you come across as more of a middle of the road company. If you go with bigger bottles (650ml) then you come across as more of a craft operation.  So we are wrestling with what exactly to do, and I hope we can make a decision in the next week.  As for the tanks, we are grinding the suppliers on their price, and hope to get our ideal package within our budget.  We think it is better to go a little bit smaller on the tank farm, knowing that you may run out of capacity quickly, than spend all your money on equipment and have very little left over for everything else.

Thats it for now.  Should there be anything else you want an update on, as always, let me know and I will include it for my next blog.

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Those costs keep on Creeping Up

Being a salesperson for the past 15 years has ingrained in my head the need to make everyone happy.  I always seem to take the middle of the road, and that seems to always be a good win-win situation.  However the last 5 years in residential real estate has changed that somewhat.  In fact, my opinion has somewhat swung the other way.  It can probably be summed up by a real estate ‘saying’ that goes something like this:  When a buyer and seller are both unhappy about the price, its probably a good deal.

You see, selling real estate has made me realize not everyone needs to be happy all the time.  In fact, some people look for things to make them even more unhappy.  I guess you could say some people will always see the glass as half full or half empty, and normally these people like to put themselves in situations that reinforce their own personal beliefs.  Anyhow, I will get to the point.

If you are a contractor and you are called about working on our brewery, I am sorry in advance for grinding you on your price.  I feel better about saying this, as in my former life I would have rarely done this.  But the new me is a lot different as every time we can save $1, I feel like I am earning $1.  As one of my recent posts on asbestos eluded to, the costs of our brewery have been steadily going up and up.

I would pass on this advice to anyone else starting a brewery:  The cost to retrofit a 2,000 sq ft space versus a 5,000 sq ft space versus a 9,000 sq ft space is totally different, while at the same time very similar.  They are very similar in the sense that you likely have the same expenses regardless of what size space you have.  I’m talking trade water interceptor, waterline upgrade, sprinkler installation, sewer upgrade, new overhead door, power upgrade, etc.  The difference comes in the amount each of these items costs you.

Sure some of these items like a new trade waste interceptor or new overhead door are the same regardless of the size of your space.  However, upgrades like electrical, sprinkler, waterline and mechanical and their associated cost are dependent on 2 main variables.  First, how much change you need to make from the current layout of the warehouse you lease to the finished layout.  Do you even need sprinklers?  We didn’t, so we knew the only cost would be to retrofit the existing system to fit within our layout (in other words putting new heads on).  Second, and something not to underestimate, is the size of your space.  For instance. to run a pipe from end to end of a 5,000 sq ft warehouse costs a $1 per linear foot.  Well if you double the size of your warehouse, the cost per foot doesn’t change, but the length sure as heck does.

This is where we are at.  We leased a warehouse that is bigger than originally planned for (we planned for 6,000 and we ended up with 9,000 sq ft), and while we increased the costs associated with a bigger space, we are now realizing that we may not have increased the costs enough.  To bring this full circle, we are going to try and grind some savings in different ways, and one of these is through our contractors who will do various jobs for us.  More importantly, I would expect that our tasting room will have picnic tables and be pretty plain when we are finished, as we will surely run out of cash.

The Biggest day in this Process – Lease Signing Day

It looks like the day might finally be upon us.  This is the day that seems like it should be the first step in the process, but realistically is more like the 500,000th of 1,000,000 steps in starting a brewery.  I have thought about this day for years.  It’s like I need to pinch myself to make sure this isn’t a dream.  We have signed subject removal for leasing our space.  After a 12 month courtship, and months of negotiating, feeling elated, feeling depressed, and most importantly uncertainty, we have done it.

I know what you are thinking:  Whats the big deal?  You found a place to brew your beer.  Thousands of other breweries across North America have found a suitable place to brew their beer, what makes your accomplishment any different?  When I think about it that way, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.  But when you consider that we live in Vancouver, where land and warehouses are at a premium, it feels like a huge accomplishment.

I would say the key learnings from this process would be as follows:

  1. Don’t even consider buying a space, unless you are rich.  And that begs the question, if you are rich, why are you starting a brewery?
  2. Dilemna:  You can only have a one of the following:  A good landlord, a good location, a good space.  Which will you choose?
  3. Get ready for a personal guarantee.  Unless you have a brewery already, and if so why the heck are you reading this blog, get ready to lay whatever personal wealth you have on the line with your landlord.
  4. Expect to spend a lot of money fixing this space up.  Our bill is going to be huge, because we have a larger space, but even for small spaces, expect to spend $300,000 minimum.
  5. Use a good commercial realtor, who works exclusively in an area.  Don’t use a friend or family member who doesn’t know a lot about what they are doing.  We used Matt Smith from Colliers, and were very happy with our choice
  6. If you are ordering new equipment, don’t order any until you get your space secured.  I’ve heard too many horror stories to go down that road.
  7. Expect the unexpected.  There will be a fundamental problem with your space that you didn’t anticipate, so budget some contingency for your build out.
  8. Engage with architects, engineers and other professionals from the get-go.  They will help you understand what is needed and what is to come.
  9. Don’t lock yourself into a size of brewery, type of brewery or anything else until you find your space.  We totally changed our strategy based on the space we found.  Committing to a space is important to do before you commit to a type of brewery you are creating.
  10. Last and most importantly, PRAY.  Thats right, because when you find a space that seems really good, I can guarantee that there will be someone else who also finds the space really good, brewery or otherwise.  There is a lack of good space, and expect landlords hold all the power to pick who they work with.

So now, the process of starting a brewery truly begins.  It is hard to believe that from the time I started to write a business plan to this point in my life has been 5 years.  So patience, if not a inherent characteristic you have, will definitely be something that you develop.  If you don’t, I would say that your journey into the world of starting a brewery might be a short one.

Today will be my last shave, and I can start officially telling people that we have a space to brew our beer.  Many thanks to all those people who helped encourage and support us in getting to this point.  Without all that you have given to this process, I am afraid I wouldn’t have been able to do it.

Damn Exchange rate!

Well what a bad surprise we received today about purchasing our equipment.  Instead of our equipment costing us about $550,000, we just got a 10% surcharge!  I blame myself, and I would recommend to anyone else who plans on starting a brewery to take note.  Watch the exchange rates and know the forecasts!  When a business needs to order equipment, fluctuations in the exchange rate can have a massive impact on costs.

Let me give you an example, from the time that we wrote our business plan about 4 years ago to today, the Canadian dollar has gone from about $0.95 Canadian for $1 American to what it is today $1.09 Canadian for $1 American.  As you can imagine this is crushing, and seeing the Canadian dollar lose $0.03 in one week, has become too much for us to handle.  We are purchasing some US dollars.

Unfortunately, this means that the cost of every dollar in equipment we buy, will now cost us about $0.10 more.  Just so you know, here are the costs for our equipment, at least what we have budgeted in our plan:

  • Brewhouse $250,000
  • Bottler $100,000
  • Fermenters and Conditioning Tanks $150,000
  • Misc Equipment $50,000

So all the costs of this equipment just went from $550,000 to about $605,000, as the suppliers we are working with accept American money only.  That sucks so hard I can’t even begin to tell you.  I feel so stupid for not thinking ahead to this possibility and changing some money over months ago.  If we had done this even just 2 months ago we would have saved about $25,000 in  costs.

So this leads us to a point that we must now consider.  Do we raise more money to pay for this cost overrun?  Do we look to purchase our equipment locally?  Or do we reduce the size of our equipment and shave some costs off that way?  Maybe there is a combination of a couple of these to make it work.

At the end of the day, there isn’t much that we can do about this.  All we can do is manage our actions from here on out.  It is a tough lesson for us to learn, and while there isn’t a lot that I can do about this, I can at least help someone else out to save some money.

General Update on Things

I have received some feedback lately around wanting a general update on our progress.  There seems to be genuine interest in how the overall project is going versus what we are encountering on a daily basis.  As such, this post is a little more of a general update on our progress rather than a general rant about this process, or a specific detail of things.

So as you likely know, we have submitted a development permit to the City of Vancouver for a space in East Vancouver.  On Thursday of last week, we were told we’ll be given an answer on this permit in the next couple weeks.  We are waiting for this permit, as we can’t lease the space we are interested in without first getting approval to brew there by the City.  In Vancouver, the only buildings that you can outright lease and know with certainty you can brew is M2.  The trick is that there isn’t a lot of M2 zones, and the buildings we were looking at in M2 just weren’t right for us.  So we ended up in an I2 zone, which is one where brewing beer is conditional upon submitting a development permit.  Any potential for us to use this space hinges on getting this permit, so we are waiting with fingers crossed to get good news.  As of Nov 18th, no news!

Another big process is collecting and securing money from investors.  Luckily, an investment in our brewery is eligible for the eBC tax credit, which basically means that 30% of each investors money is returned to them in the form of a credit from the government of BC.  It looks like we need to raise over $1,100,000 so everything we can do to help secure “financial partners” is welcomed with open arms.  We are going to be collecting money in the next 2 weeks from our investors, so I hope that what people have committed is what they are going to offer us.  If not, I am sure I will post something around my frustration with this.

Financing is another part of the business that is really important.  We will need both an operating loan and a line of credit in order to make the business float during the crucial first couple years.  Opening a brewery can be a recipe for financial hardship, as the line between profit and loss on a monthly basis is razor thin.  If sales fall behind a little bit, and costs are a little higher than expected, money can go out the window very quickly.  Luckily for us we were approved for a loan and line of credit to make our finances come together.  These will total about $450,000, and when added to the money we are raising we feel like we should be in a good position to make things work.

The layout of our space and submission for building permits is something we have been working very hard towards.  In fact, this has taken the majority of our time of late.  With the arrival of our Development permit by the end of November <fingers crossed>, we would like to have our building permit submission ready to go.  This means that we need to have the layout of the space virtually complete, have the work needed by engineers complete, have all the drawings and work from our architect complete, and to have all other inputs ready to go.  It seems really easy when I sit here and type this, but the reality is that there are so many moving parts to this, that it is incredibly complicated and difficult to carry out.  Finalizing the layout of our space has taken us over 8 weeks, as there are SO MANY variables to consider.  For example: Needs now versus in the future when we grow, tasting room connection to brewing space, retail area, production flow and functionality, the location of existing services, proximity of different spaces that need to be connected, etc, etc.

Equipment is something that we need to have ready to go, so that we can be sure it is ready in time for production.  We have looked to China, Europe, Canada and the USA for our brewhouse and tanks.  To be honest, I can see why this step can be either really easy, or one of the most difficult steps.  No two quotes seem to be alike, and the unknown factors of quality, timeliness of delivery, and follow-up support make these intangibles even harder to gauge in terms of importance.  A big hurdle to buying Canadian is the price.  Companies like Newlands and Specific Mechanical are local and have a good reputation in the business, but their prices are among the highest.  Moreover, it sounds as though some of the other start-up breweries have experienced some trouble with them.  Then there are the systems from Europe, where the quality is top notch, and the price matches.  Moving East to China, the land of cheap equipment, but one where the after sale service is poor, and other local breweries have experienced trouble with having to repair brand new equipment.  All of these things make choosing one company to work with very difficult.  At the end of the day, it is a balance between all these things, and hopefully one company stands out as the best.  At this point, we have no idea which one it will be.

Another huge part of this process is our name.  For the time being we are letting this one go for a few weeks.  While we don’t have an official name yet, the focus groups we ran were instrumental in getting us closer to making this choice.  The only problem is that we are putting out other fires that are more important at this time.  Things like financing, layout, legals, accounting, etc.  We anticipate having our name by the end of the year, and that should give us 8 months to create a brand around this.  I hope this is enough time and that we make decisions that are based on sound principles.

The legal side of things is something we kind of let slip and caused us a lot of grief and unnecessary stress.  In order to raise money and run a proper incorporated company you need to have:  A shareholders agreement (aka a partnership agreement), a subscription agreement, a set of articles for your company, and a share ownership agreement.  All of these documents are tedious to create, and require the hard work of a legal team.  Reviewing and revising take a lot of time and mean that you are continually working on getting these documents ready so that you can raise money, and provide a framework to investors on how your company will operate.

There are literally hundreds of other little things to do, some of which are major and some of which are minor pieces of major components.  There seems to be nothing that isn’t important in some way to the overall picture of this brewery.  To be honest, I would love to find the time to blog about all these things, but I just feel too much pressure to write about them, rather than working away at them.

Lease versus Buy Equipment

Well if needing to raise $1.2 million dollars isn’t enough of a mountain to climb in order to open a brewery, don’t forget the line of credit of about $250,000 you will need to keep your operations solvent until you break even on a monthly basis.  For our operations, we are projecting about 16-18 months before we break even.  When you really look at the reality of opening a brewery, you almost think it would be better to head down to the River Rock Casino and see if you couldn’t do better than owning a brewery.

There is one major way to mitigate the risk associated with starting a brewery:  Lease your capital equipment.  It is a novel idea that can amortize the capital cost of equipment over a longer period of time, and help ensure short term liquidity during the crucial first few years of owning a brewery.

My personality is not one that is geared towards leasing anything.  I have never leased a car, as I think it is better to own something outright with a loan, than it is to just pay for use.  In fact, throughout my career as a salesperson, I never leased a car.  So leasing the brewhouse is not something that I ever thought was going to be an option.  But I have been told by more than a few people that there are some benefits, so lets take a look at the Pro’s and Con’s of leasing:

Pro’s of Leasing Equipment:

  • Leases are tax deductible:  The whole lease payment is a straight write-off, which is easy
  • You can afford a nicer/bigger/more reliable system as the cost will be amortized over a 5 year period (in our case it would be)
  • Few upfront costs associated with lease and the details of taxes, etc are handled by someone else
  • Don’t need a down payment, as all the actual payment of the equipment is handled by the leasing company
  • Spread the cost of the equipment from upfront when you have zero revenue, to a time period when (in theory) you have good revenue in order to pay for the equipment.
  • At the end of an equipment lease, you own the items you leased.  There is no payment like with a car, you simply own the stuff you bought.

Con’s of Leasing Equipment:

  • If our business fails, we are still bound to pay for the lease until it is complete, and the equipment is owned by the bank, meaning our biggest asset is in the hands of someone else until we pay it off in full
  • With a lease, you may have additional cash during the first couple years, but it makes cash flow a little harder in years 3-5 as you have an extra charge on your cash flow
  • Once you sign a lease, you are bound to the lease
  • Over the course of a lease, you spend about 5% of the total amount owing per year in payments to someone else, which can add up quickly when you are looking at $500,000 in leasing.

I am sure there are other points for and against leasing equipment.  When I spoke with my accountant, he said something that stuck with me, and I hope to keep in the forefront of my mind when it comes to this kind of thing:  Do whatever makes your cash flow better.  Simple enough right ….. well not so fast.

Like everything in this process, and I sound like a broken record, there is a decision to make.  Sacrifice better cash flow in years 1 and 2 for worse cash flow in years 3 to 5.  Or vice versa!  It seems to be a universally known that a lack of cash sinks businesses.  Cash Is KING!  Well, under that scenario, a lease agreement seems to make logical sense.

So into my cash flow I went, and put in leasing equipment, and voila out popped the results!  Enter dramatic music here …. It didn’t work out as well as I thought it would.  In fact, it saddled operations down the line with those extra payments, when that cash (and lost money on interest) could be better allocated to other facets of the business.  Help!  I have a meeting on Monday with our accountant, and I hope to get his expert advice on what we should do.  I wonder which way he will go?  Do you have an opinion?

In my opinion, I think we will lease some of our equipment, but at this point I don’t believe leasing all of the equipment is worth it.  The $10,000 per month in lease costs help in the short term, but not the long term.  One thing is for sure …. its just another decision to make, and one that is crucial to ST and LT success of the brewery.

Raising Money …. Almost there

This part of starting a brewery involves no glamour, lots of rejection, and takes a thick skin. Most importantly, looking for investors takes patience.  Sometimes, the last thing I want to do is is take time away from the Brand Guide, Business Plan or other more ‘fun’ projects (OK I’ll say it, liquid research) to focus on this.  There seems to be a lot of people interested to know more, but to have ongoing discussions with them, means reducing the number of people who actually want to make an investment.

You see sharing your business plan, and your thoughts on everything from Marketing to Financials is like exposing your inner-most thoughts on business and branding.  Inevitably, we all have different viewpoints on these items, so there are things about my business plan that some people jive with, and other parts that turn people off our business.  Likely, if you are reading this blog you are a fan of craft beer; so explaining the market, how it’s growing and what the future holds is easy …. like selling candy to a kid.

However, about 75% of investors that read my plan don’t know a lot about craft beer.  For instance, they think Granville Island or Sierra Nevada is craft, have never heard of many of the smaller craft brewers, and don’t seek out establishments that cater to craft beer.  Some investors have even approached the business plan from a pure business standpoint.  They ask, “Why wouldn’t you brew more beer, sell it cheaper, market the crap out of it, and have higher sales?”  As you can imagine, this is not what I have in mind for my brewery! #FollowMyDreams

Most of all, you are asking mostly friends and family to invest their money in your dream.  This simple fact means that people start out skeptical in the first place.  We all know someone who is offering some multi-level marketing investment, or someone else who is selling diet pills or a weight loss plan.  Personally, I find this annoying, especially when its very in-your-face.  Also, people work hard for their money, and there is nothing worse that pissing your money away on a bad investment.  All of these things stick in my mind when I ask people to part with their hard earned money.

The net sum has been very positive.  I feel lucky to be based in Vancouver with this dream, as craft beer is bigger here than most any other place in Canada.  From a Canadian perspective, craft beer in BC is very sophisticated and has set the standard for many years now.  The Canadian Brewing Awards is littered with BC breweries winning gold medals over the past 5 years.  I just have to keep reminding myself that this opportunity is not for everyone.  I have also learned to take the feedback that people give me as not a personal attack, but ways to make our business and prospects for success better.  Ok, sometimes people are just jerks, but thankfully they are in the minority here.  Most people just can’t afford to drop $25,000 on something like this …. living in Vancouver is expensive.

As of today, we have raised over $1 million dollars towards starting this dream.  When I really step back and think about that number, it is a LOT of cash.  Depending on the space we lease, and the retrofit cost involved in making the space suitable for brewing, we will likely need another $200,000 to be fully financed.  I hope that we can find this money within the next few months, as the thought of being so close to connecting with all the investors we need is both motivating and exciting.

I am always open to comments, support and help from anyone and everyone in making my dream of a craft brewery become a reality.  If you happen to have any advice, thoughts on anything about the industry, or any other insights on anything to do with starting a business, please feel free to pass them along.

Thanks for reading this post ….