Category Archives: Misc

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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

60 Days Out

Without a doubt, things get busier as you get closer to opening your brewery.  For us, there is so much going on right now at the brewery, it is hard to keep track of sometimes.  It is also a point that we are beginning to notice parts of the job getting significantly completed, and others that seemed so far off a few months ago, getting started.

One thing I know for sure, the less you have to complete and build in your space, the faster this project goes.  Since we have taken possession of our space early in the year, Yellow Dog has gone from building to finished, Moody Ales will go from start to finish before us, and a host of other breweries literally leapfrogged us during the past 6 months.  It is both an indication of the complexity of our project, but also the challenges we have faced and will continue to face with our space.

At 60 days from opening, there is a lot going on and as I said earlier, keeping on top of all that stuff can be a lot of work.  If you stop for a second and look down, you are going to miss what is coming at you.  Little things like Tap Handles, coasters, label deadlines, getting UPC codes, positioning of electrical outlets, timing of deliveries, and hiring of staff, can all creep up on you if you don’t think ahead and plan for the decisions you need to make.

One of the bigger issues we have right now is that there is so much going on in the brewery, its hard to schedule everyone at the right times.  We have electricians working overhead, sprinkler installation people, carpenters, mechanical contractors, floor coating technicians, welders, and our team of people helping where we can.  This means that with everyones tools, equipment and supplies, there is not a lot of room to work.  I would suggest that when you build your brewery, you encourage people to get their work done as quickly as possible and as early as possible.  The longer people wait to get stuff done, the more it makes your brewery busy and jam-packed.

Some of the big decisions we have to make are:

  • What beers are we going to launch with in the tasting room
  • Beer Names
  • Tap Handles
  • Order Chairs for tasting room
  • Beer Prices
  • Hiring of Staff
  • Hiring of General Manager for the front of the house
  • Delivery truck
  • Ordering of bottle caps
  • Ordering of 1st piece of new capital equipment
  • A million and one things in the brewery
  • Colours

Just writing this list gives me a strong desire to get working and stop blogging.  As such, I will carry on and leave this post here.  I could write more, so much more, but time would be better spent elsewhere.

An Uncomfortable Decision

Throughout the process of starting any business, you learn quickly to deal with unforeseen circumstances on a regular basis.  Things like missed deliveries, unexpected costs, delays by a government body, missing parts, etc.  Recently we had one of the biggest curveballs sent our way, from the most unlikely of places.  Our Structural Engineer who has been working with us a lot lately, just had a heart attack.

For starters, we wish him all the best in his return to health.  Having worked as a pharmaceutical salesperson, I have learned the effect ill health can have on a persons physical and mental well being.  It can effect different people in a number of ways.  So we wish our engineer all the best in getting back to health after such a traumatic experience.

Let me give you a little context to the situation.  A structural engineer is pretty important on most any building process, as there are lots of decisions to be made around making sure big components are sound.  Things like; making sure our floors are structurally sound, the grain hopper is fastened to the building properly, connecting the new curbs to the old concrete slab properly, and making sure the walls and ceilings are properly built so they can handle a heavy load …. you get the idea.  So having someone that understands your project, and someone that works within your timeline is key.

More importantly, when you are at the point our brewery build-out is right now, a structural engineer and their work is critical in moving things ahead.  For instance, there is a list of about 10 things that our engineer is working on, and without his guidance and advice, we can’t make any progress.

Let me now recap a few of our issues with our engineer and you will see why we need to make such an uncomfortable decision.  We picked our structural engineer about 6 months ago, and like a lot of decisions we make, it was based on personality, a referral and price.  He was not from a company or firm, rather just a guy who works on his own … he is the only employee.  Early in the process of things, he gave us some advice, and it seemed very good and we looked forward to working with him on things.

Fast forward to the day we took possession:  February 1st, 2014.  All of a sudden we needed our engineer to start producing some drawings and work for us, but our emails and calls went unanswered.  We reconnected with our architect over this, and they handled things, allaying our concerns and repointing everyone in the right direction (they are good at this).  As our general contractor kept sinking his teeth into the building of our brewery, he had more and more questions for the structural engineer.

He put these questions to the engineer on a regular basis for the next month, until about the beginning of April, when we really started to worry about not getting drawings and answers on what exactly he was supposed to be doing with certain parts of the brewery.  This time we contacted the engineer directly to tell him our concerns.  He gave us a few small little answers, but nothing concrete.  Fast forward to the last week of April, and it was now critical to get answers.  We needed to know about drain construction, floors, connecting old cement with new, etc., and we still didn’t get or have any answers.

A meeting was planned at the end of April to discuss what we needed, and how urgently we needed it, and it went amazingly well.  The engineer agreed that he was late in getting stuff to us, and promised we would have this information for last Friday.  We felt really good about things and moved forward with a positive attitude.

You can probably see where this is going.  Last Friday came and went, and we received nothing. We were pretty disappointed to say the least.  The bottom line is that we need these drawings for work that is getting done right now, and without them, we are opening ourselves up to major problems.  The biggest of these is a delayed opening, which means we will loose even more money in our first year.

Well the news got even worse on Monday morning, as we learned that this engineer had a heart attack and was in the hospital.  And since he is from a company of 1, there was no way to get anything he has done.  So what would you do?  Do you show compassion and wait for him to get out of the hospital, and let him finish the project …. or do we move in a different direction, avoiding any further delays.  We ground our teeth on this one, but as of yesterday we have moved on with a new structural engineer.

In one way its good, as we get a fresh start with someone who hopefully be a little more proactive on getting things done.  Moreover, in our initial consultation he gave us a lot of really good information and advice, something we didn’t get from our last engineer.  In the another way, moving on with someone else is bad.  We have lost all the work that he completed, there is definitely going to be some bad blood over the bill and invoice for work he has done, but not delivered to us on, and we feel bad kicking him when he is down.

At the end of the day, we need to move this process forward now.  So waiting for our engineer to heal and get better, while the right thing to do, is not something we are doing.  We do wish our contractor all the best, and we hope to recovers and gets back on his feet ASAP.  This is just one of the harsh decisions you have to make when starting a business, one that kind of makes you uncomfortable.

 

The Odds and Ends of this Process

One thing that takes a lot of time, especially of late, is the final layout and design of the space.  It is quite easy to get approximate locations of the brewhouse, walls, grain room, bathrooms, etc., but it is another thing to lock in the exact location.  This goes against what I ever thought would happen, and makes you choose between saving time, saving money, but only getting one of these at once.

Are you as confused as me?  Maybe the words are not flowing from my brain to the keyboard this early in the morning, but the final location and final detail of things is taking a lot of time.  Why are these things important?  Well, without knowing how long of runs you need for mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, your general contractor and others, you can’t really get accurate quotes on work needed.  If you can’t get an accurate quote, when it comes time for an electrician to do the work, and they need to do something that is not in the original package, there is an up charge for this.  In other words, if the electrician needs to run power to 10 extra lights that were not in the plan, they charge extra.  It is also the time that they can “bend you over the table so to speak.”

So in trying to button down all the details of what to put where, it makes life really difficult for the individual(s) putting together the final plans.  For us that means our architect, our brewhouse designer, and our contractor are all working in tandem, with emails and phone calls going back in forth at the rate of about 10 per day, with weekly meetings, and with miscommunication at every step of the way.  It is very difficult to orchestrate, as often people are not focused on our project alone, meaning sometimes it is not convenient for others to work on our project.  There are also vision issues, time issues, communication issues, and issues with our issues.

One of the biggest issues you cross when it comes to the odds and ends, is saving money versus saving time.  At the end of the day, we try to save both at every step along the way, but it has proven impossible.  If you want something done quickly, you are going to pay more as you narrow the window of options you have.  On the flip side, if you want things done economically, often the time needed to save the money is huge.  For our project this means trying to balance out these 2 things, so that we can save a little time, but also a little money.  Let me give you an example.

Should you build a cooler yourself or have one prefabricated and installed by someone else?  There is something about a cooler that makes it very expensive to pay a company to design and install.  It is not like the engineering is difficult, the materials are relatively inexpensive, and the amount of time needed to put it together is nothing exorbitant.  So when you get a quote from a company that specializes in putting this into your brewery, the cost blows your mind.  The cooler can literally cost $40,000 to supply.  WTF.  So this naturally leads us to look at designing and building our own cooler.  Quickly you realize that you can build the same thing, and save yourself about $20,000 which is huge in the grand scheme of things.  The challenge with this route is the time involved.  The time needed to procure the pieces, put together design specs, meet code, coordinate trades, etc, etc.  What we are now realizing that building our own cooler will save us money, but it will suck a lot of time from spending it elsewhere.

When you have time sucked away from certain things that need it, then you are delaying the process for other things moving forward.  So in other words, there is always a delicate balance between time spent on a project, and time lost on another project.  There is also a balance between money saved and time saved.

Let this be a lesson to other future brewery owners, the balance of these things is a hard thing to do, and you will spend a lot of time heading down a path, and then after a certain amount of time, backtracking and going down the other path, only to realize that you should have stayed down the first path.  The key is to always be aware which path is the best to travel down, and to recognize when you are running into a brick wall ….. because as we have learned, there is never a brick wall to show you are on the wrong path, only a few hurdles, making recognition of this even harder.

My key learning is this:  Sometimes getting overcharged is alright, so long as you spend the time you save elsewhere to move another aspect of the brewery forward, or save money.  There are other times an owner needs to make a greater effort to save money, at the expense of time, as the cost savings outweigh the time spent.  Choose wisely!

I have never felt so many different kinds of stress!

One of the things about opening a brewery that you go through is STRESS!  Thats right, a word deserving of capital letters, because it is not something, when you are dreaming of this, that you think about at all.  In fact I had friends and other entrepreneurs tell me about stress, and I always dismissed it, or paid it some superficial lip service about how I was a laid back guy and it wouldn’t get to me.  Well it did get to me over the past month.

What I have realized is there are different levels of stress.  I will try and talk about each and how it relates to starting a brewery.

Instantaneous Stress:  This is the stress that comes out of nowhere, like being late for a meeting, which is very intense and lasts a very short period of time.  Often it is unexpected, and comes and goes before you even realized what the heck happened.  I don’t mind this kind of stress, as I don’t loose sleep at night thinking of how I am going to be late for a meeting the next day because of traffic or not leaving enough time to get there.

Decision stress:  As I have blogged about previously, there are heaps of decisions you need to make when you open a brewery.  Name, bottle size, engineers and architects, size of tasting room, branding, financials, company structure …. you get the idea.  Sometimes, you only have the odd decision to make, but other times you have 5 or 6 big decisions to make and they compound to make the decision even harder.  How do each of these decisions cumulatively effect your business, and will you end up with the company that you thought you would have?

Performance stress:  Ok, it might put a smile on your face, but it isn’t that kind of stress!  This is the kind of stress I feel when I think about me as an individual living up to my expectations, and those of my shareholders, and everyone else that is depending on this business to be a success.  Full stop, I worry that my performance in the day to day operations will be good enough.

Long term success stress:  This is the kind of stress that keeps you up at night.  Will I be able to make money, will I be happy, how will this business effect my personal/work life balance, and will I have any investors that want to be friends with me if this business goes bankrupt?  When you are investing thousands of hours in time, and thousands of dollars without a paycheque, failure is not an option.  I am far too old and far too deep into life to have another “learning experience.”  The only way I can cope with this stress is yoga before bed and exercise.  It seems to be the great balancer in my life, an I hope to always have time for this.

Family stress  I think we all feel this, and it goes without saying; the stress of my families well-being and happiness is more important than anything else.  I love my wife and kids too much to sacrifice their long term happiness.  How will my kids respond to me being gone 12 hours a day for the first year of this business?  How will my wife feel about the same thing?  I think the only way to deal with this is to unplug 1 full day a week, and to pick your spots when you work versus when you spend time with your loved ones.  I only hope I get the right mix!

Beer Nerd Stress:  Thats right, I said it.  I worry about how our beer will be received from the world of beer nerds.  While we are certainly going to sell our beer to everyone that wants to purchase it, I think the opinion of local and abroad beer nerds really matters to me.  I want to make beer that I would be proud to serve to those “in the know”.  Unique, unapologetic, and delicious.  I would hate my brewery to be a company that was put alongside other less than respected breweries.  It would ruin this whole process and take away from my dream to be a respected brewery.

I’ve Got Something to do:  This is the stress associated with having a deadline, and a finite amount of time to complete this task.  This stress is right up there for me.  Its like a real life episode of Chopped.  Recently I ran a couple focus groups on naming my brewery (I will blog more about this later), and the days leading up to the first focus group was intense.  It was 2 days of preparing, emailing, calling, booking, rebooking, re-emailing, buying, printing …. etc.  This is a really hard type of stress to deal with, as any escape from this stress will only put more pressure on you.

The stress of all these things …. In other words the stress of all this stress!:  The last bit of stress that comes to mind, is the stress of all these things.  Cumulatively, all these stresses can stress you out.  This is the kind of stress that can really impact you both in the short term and definitely in the long term.  The only way to deal with it is to stay positive, believe in yourself and those around you, and to make lists.  Ok, maybe there are some other ways also, but every person is different, and I am certainly one that falls into that category.

My next blog will focus on the naming contest, and the 3rd stage of that process.  I hope that we have our list of 3 names in the next couple days, and then pass this out to the world for their opinion.

Im Starting a Craft Brewery

Call me crazy, call me nuts, call me anything you want (my wife and family have already thrown all those verbal grenades at me). I am hell bent on starting a craft brewery based in Vancouver, BC.

Why you ask? It might be because I was raised by a father who would teach me his secret home brew recipes that my grandfather had brought to Canada in the 1950’s, after being entirely dissatisfied with the quality and range of beer available in Canada. Or it could be that I was surrounded by friends and family who were actively entrepreneurs and spoke about the great things that happen when you push your own boundaries. But I think the biggest reason may be the most simple. Life is short. These 3 words mean so much. Think about it for a second … we all know friends and family that have passed away too early, or a grandfather who sees their perspective of life change as they are older. The truth is, I wasn’t entirely happy with my life about 5 years ago, and this moment has been five years in the making. More to come on that in subsequent posts.

I hope this blog becomes a useful too for people who are thinking the same thing as me, people who are interested in craft beer and for people that are fascinated with seeing others take the biggest gamble of their life in pursuit of a passion.

So there it is. I am going to commit to uploading regularly with video, information and somewhat humorous posts about this process. I have been working towards this dream for 5 years, and I hope that I am closer now that I have ever been in the past.