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Is this the end or just the beginning?

We did it!  With the help of countless individuals, family, friends, and our construction crew, we have successfully opened a craft brewery in Vancouver.  On Wednesday 17th, we had a non-posted (soft)opening and it was a huge success.  None of our systems crashed, our beer poured like it should, and we were able to see some close friends and family share in the room we created.  We opened for the weekend, and it went really well.  All our staff showed up for their shift, we didn’t piss anyone off, and our beer poured without any serious problems.

This is also the end of our journey in starting a craft brewery.  I do plan on continuing to blog about running a craft brewery, and what is happening at Strange Fellows, but how that looks and what that means is something that I am not quite sure of yet.  Without a doubt I will miss writing this blog. It gave me a chance to add to this amazing community of craft beer in BC, Canada and the world.  To know that we may have helped someone else avoid the errors and mistakes in starting a craft brewery is a very cool thought.  The blog also allowed me to express my feelings, so when I would have a bad day, have really great news or really bad news, I could blog about it and I would immediately feel better.

Opening a brewery of this size takes the effort and support of hundreds of individuals.  It would be impossible for us to name everyone that was involved in this process, but let me take a stab at it.

  • Disher Construction:  Graham, Jim, Darryl, Seamus, Shawn, Joey, Ed and the other helpers who were here day in and day out.  You are all amazing and have earned our praise on your efforts.
  • Simcic and Uhrich Architects:  Marko, Bill and the crew for pulling everything together and pulling strings when they needed to be tugged.
  • Meridian Plumbing:  Nathan and his amazing crew, your mechanical sub-trade was out of this world.
  • Clear Energy Electrical:  Matt, Will, Jordan, Adam and the rest of your crew.  You guys did a huge amount of work throughout the entire process and we are grateful.
  • Broadway Welding:  Nedda, Kyler and your crew.  Amazing work in the front of the house and back of house.  Amazing metal work that we love.
  • Cove Concrete:   Excellent job pouring all the floors and making things slope the correct way.
  • Amec Contracting:  Chris and the crew, outstanding work.
  • Luca Campagna and Crew:  Your structural welding was a huge part of getting our permits and approvals in a timely manner
  • Specialty Coatings:  Our floors work and look amazing thanks to you.
  • PS Drywall:  Thanks for finishing all our important spaces to glass like finish.
  • Roofing Matters:  Thanks for fixing our leaks and taking care of things as quickly as you did.
  • West Coast Slab Jacking:  Thanks for helping shore up the slab that made us so crazy for so long
  • Olnor Investments:  The best landlord we could ever ask for.
  • Jeff Lo (RBC Banker):  Without your help and guidance, we would have been up shit creek more than once
  • Jonathan Ronkai (Sun Ronkai Chartered Accountants):  You are the best … period.  If anyone is starting a brewery, they NEED to work with you.
  • BTM Lawyers:  Grant, Sam, Michael and the rest of the group, you guys are amazing.  Thanks for helping us set-up a company that we don’t have to worry about the back-end side of.
  • Bay City Brokers:  Manny was amazing at helping to bring in all our goods from outside Canada.
  • Coquitlam Concrete:  Thanks for bringing in all the crete for us on this job.
  • Greg Ven Huizen:  You are a most excellent Geotechnical Engineer.
  • Opal Engineering:  From the get-go you were responsive and accountable, which we really appreciate more than you know.
  • Fraser Valley Refrigeration:  We are thankful to you for keeping things cold that needed to be.
  • Structural Solutions:  Andrew it was an absolute blessing to have found you and work with you.  A million thank you’s from us.
  • Sterling Cooper Consultants:  You were so important to us figuring out what to put where in our space, and we are forever thankful to the great decisions you helped us make.
  • Superior Signs and Graphics:  So glad that the exterior sign finally came together.  Thanks for helping to make it so perfect.
  • Affordable Security:  Stuart, you and your crew helped us after our break-in, and have helped prevent it from happening again.
  • Dan Jonckheere, Michael Keffer, Tyler-Andrew Milne, Peter Thiersch, Ryan Bennett, Hill family kids, Jonckheere family kids, and a few others, you helped to do the small things that we really couldn’t get done on our own.
  • Adam Berson:  Thanks for your continued dropping in and finally helping us get all the moving parts together for creating our amazing tap handles.
  • Brody Stonehouse:  Not only a great insurance agent, but also our first ever paying customer.  You are definitely going to be remembered forever.
  • All the City of Vancouver workers who helped us get our permits and navigate the bureaucracy that is our local government.
  • Anchor Glass:  Thanks for making an amazing window for everyone to see into our brewhouse, and of course those double entry doors.
  • Ripley Stainless:  You helped us more than just with your brewhouse, but also with installation of other equipment.
  • Richard Cole:  Amazing work on finishing the drywall in the tasting room.  We look forward to your first show in the art gallery.
  • Dr John-Luke Edwards:  Helping us remove the evils spirits and protect ourselves for the future was an amazing thing.
  • Lawrence:  Your amazing mill and hard work exemplify the Canadian spirit
  • Nick Black and Kayin Fields:  Thanks for helping at the end of our build, and with the starting of our tasting room.  Being able to push all the work associated with running the front of house was so incredible, especially to you guys.  Would not be here without you!

I know there are people and companies I have forgotten, but just know that you are always welcome at our business to come by for a beer and share a moment reliving the amazing experience that was this brewery.

There are 3 other people that I want to mention, as without their support, effort and passion, this project would not have come together.

My wife Deanne:  Allowing me to get up early, stay up late, not clean, cook or take care of my obligations around the house, all allowing me to focus my time and energy on the brewery is something that you did selflessly and I will always be thankful.  You are truly an amazing partner and an amazing mother, and it was so much fun sharing this experience with you.

My partners wife Christine:  Thank goodness you were part of this process.  The way you took the personalities of Iain and I, merged them into a brand is nothing short of amazing.  Working with you was an absolute pleasure, and your care and attention to the details never ceased to amaze me.  You were able to juggle 3 kids and our brand, which is nothing short of amazing.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping make our dreams a reality.

My partner, Iain Hill: What can I say about someone who I see more than my own family and friends.  It has been an absolute pleasure working with you, and I respect and admire you more than you could ever imagine.  I have learned more from you, and gained a skill set I would not otherwise have, if we didn’t walk down this road together.  The next few years might be just as much work, but I think they will be just as much fun.

During the hard times and hard days, I always dreamed about writing this last blog post, and now that I am here, it is a very bittersweet moment.  While this is really the beginning, it is also the end.  And while i am optimistic about the future, I am also sad about the process of getting here being over.  People ask me what it was like to start a brewery, and honestly, it is impossible to sum up in a sentence or two, and for that reason I am thankful I have this blog to remind me of all the highs and lows of that process.

In the end, the journey of starting a brewery is completely worth all the sacrifices you make.  There are days that you want to quit, and days that you feel like you can do no wrong.  When I dreamed of starting a brewery, I selfishly thought of the day we would sell our beer and be open to the public.  I never realized how thoroughly the process of getting to that first day would change me and make me the person that I now am.  I don’t know if I would ever do this again, but I am so thankful that I did this in the first place.

So thats it for this blog and starting a brewery. I am sure I missed a bunch of things throughout the process, but in the end, no matter how much I write about it, most people just need to experience it for themselves.  Good luck on whatever path you decide to take, and no matter what you do, remember these 2 sayings:  Go confidently in the direction of your dreams & life is a journey not a destination.  Much love and respect to everyone.

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Delay to Opening ….. Also Marketing, Production and Tasting Room Advice

We are going to be delayed in our opening.  I wish I could sit here and tell you something different, as we are so excited to open and share our journey and beer with you, but not unlike everyone else …. we are delayed.  It will end up being a combination of beer not quite being ready to go, not receiving all our permits, and construction of the tasting room not quite being complete.  I would say we are going to be open sometime before Christmas.  How much before is anyones guess.  Hopefully around the middle of the month.

Thank you for everyone that has offered their support and encouragement.  There have been days like today where I needed the words of encouragement.  Trying to get things finished in order to get final inspections, in addition to making sure you get all the inspections you need, plus submitting all the paperwork needed to move ahead is a lot of work … and stressful.

A few other things.  Take it from me, when you get a label that you are happy with, something you think you want to produce for your beer, go to a bunch of Liquor Stores and see how it looks on the shelf.  You will be surprised what you learn and I have no doubt that something about your design or direction will change.

For us, we have kept in touch with as many people as possible.  Bloggers, writers, craft beer enthusiasts, home brewers … basically anyone that wants to talk to us about craft beer.  We have asked as many people as many questions as we can about what we are doing, how things work, what they like, preferences in the marketplace, etc.

We did this with our name, via a focus group, and we did this with a bunch of other key items.  However, one thing we didn’t do was take our proposed can design and imagery into the marketplace to see how it would work on shelves.  What we have learned is key, and is something that you should know for when you design a can.  If I could distill the knowledge down to a couple things it would be this.  Put your key items on the top half of your can and make sure you get all the regulated information on the can correct (UPC number and positioning, font size, labelling requirements, etc).

We waited too long to do this, and what we found out was that our imagery, as cool as we thought it was, needed to be moved up the can, made bigger and work with the shelves and flats that would hold our beer.  Luckily for us, we hadn’t yet produced our can, so we can make the changes and then send the can off for printing.  Yes we are going to launch our packaged product in early 2015 once we are happy with the consistency and quality of beer.

Our tasting room is coming together very nicely.  We need to finish a few details, but today our tables went in, and they were bolted to the ground.  It means that we are getting close and soon we will have the final lights, chairs go in, POS and Stereo installed, and warm bodies to make it all come together.  We can’t wait to share this journey with you and we hope you find it as interesting and awesome as we hope you will.

Off to bed ….

 

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.

19 Days to Go … Anxiety has reared its ugly head again

I am worried.  Yes, worried about what the heck we are going to do in order to open successfully in less 3 weeks.  In short order, the list of things we have to do is huge, and we all have anxiety about the things we have to do, and not letting anything drop through the cracks.  The next week is especially huge as we have lots of major decisions that have to be made.  More about that later.  But the biggest thing is to not let anything major fall through the cracks.  Kind of like packing for a vacation:  Don’t forget the passports, camera, money, prescriptions and plane tickets …. the rest is kind of unimportant or can be bought.  We are the same, but a different set of things to not forget.

The biggest things I have anxiety has changed throughout the process.  At the start it was the big stuff:  Finding a warehouse, budgeting enough money, finding good construction crews, and making good choices on capital equipment purchases.  Now, about a month from opening, the list has changed to the details that make up some of the big decisions.  For instance, I have anxiety about actually opening on December 5th.  That is a big thing to push towards, but it is the multitude of items that make up this.  Like passing all the inspections, producing beer that is going to meet our standards and expectations, finishing the construction, etc.  There are a bunch of little things, many of which we have little to no control over, that are proving slow to overcome.

One of the other challenges is that you think you get past a hurdle, but somehow you get caught up when you thought you were free and clear.  Take our exterior sign for instance.  We thought it was going to be installed this past week, but the sign company dropped the sign and it broke in 2 pieces.  As such, they had to re-order and it will possibly be another week or 2 before it is ready.  Now that is cutting it close.  There is all sorts of stuff like this that can slow you down.

We really feel like we are at a point where we are right there.  We can see the opening day coming quickly, but while we are so close, it does feel so far away.  Off the top of my mind, here are some of the big and small things we don’t yet have complete:

  • tap handles
  • 750ml bottle design
  • painting of interior walls in packaging area
  • a pass of all the inspections
  • painting
  • finishing of the tasting  room
  • exterior work on the new entrance and canopy
  • securing of a loan for additional cash into business
  • AV in tasting room
  • art gallery submission process
  • the fellowship
  • website
  • t-shirts, hats and other merchandise
  • overhead doors in warehouse
  • exterior sign
  • hiring staff for tasting room
  • hiring staff for production
  • tent and associated equipment for tastings
  • PR kits for various groups

As you can see, there is a lot to think about and keep a person up at night.  Without a doubt, there is so much to be done, that we are looking to just make decisions on things and pass the buck to someone else.  On that note, time to get cracking as I think the best way to deal with stress is to tackle the things that are giving you stress.

 

 

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.

23 Days to go …. Finally Received our Manufacturers Licence

With 23 days to go, our days are pretty busy, and with the news we received today, they are just going to get busier.  As of today, we are officially allowed to manufacture beer in our brewery!!!  Yeehaw, thats right, after submitting our manufacturers licence to the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch 12 months ago, we finally received permission to brew beer.

It is a long and drawn out process, one that I have blogged about under the Process of Starting  a Craft Brewery Page.  Essentially, I can’t see anyone getting their manufacturers licence any quicker than 6 months.  Given the amount of decisions you have to make, the people you need to work with, the government agencies that lack a sufficient quantity of personnel on this, etc, all combine to make the process go slow.  It is why I recommend that as soon as you know you have a lease in place, this is the first thing you should do, apply for permits/licences as they are going to take the longest … really anything to do with government.

Anyhow, what this means is that Thursday we are going to brew our first batch of beer, which will then be followed by brew number 2 and 3 in quick order.  I will be heading to the brewery in the morning to readjusting the webcam so that we can point it at the brewhouse and you can have a birds-view of things.

Of the many milestones in the road to starting a brewery, this is the one that you think about the most:  Brewing the first batch of beer.  A lot of work, preparation and effort goes towards making this day a reality, and next to the first day you get to drink your beer.  This day is coming and until then, we have a long list of other things to get completed.  We hope that our beer matches what we hope it will be, and really, what we expect.

The best part of having a tasting room is that we will get to make a lot of different beers.  Barrel Aged, Lambics, Sours, Hoppy Beers, Strong Beers, Blended Beers, and even Lagers will be part of our tasting room.  What makes all these beers possible is the crazy good mind of Iain Hill and the support of so many loyal craft beer supporters.  Without your encouragement, preference for craft beer, and support none of this would be possible.  We thank you for making beer unique and even strange beer something we can all be proud of again.

Very exciting times for us, and we hope to share our brand and beer with you very soon.  Until then, keep reading this blog, checking our webcam and following our social media feeds.

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.

 

10 BBL Brewhouse for Sale

During the process of starting a brewery and writing a blog about starting a brewery, I have met and continue to meet many fascinating people.  These are people who are willing to do as others have before us, and risk everything they have achieved in order to start a business.  You see all sorts of personalities and business ideas come through, and they run the range from amazing to crazy.  Some people have leased a space without even having a business plan, and others have strong marketing backgrounds, and others lots of home brewing but no commercial brewing experience, etc, etc.

One of the groups that I have recently met purchased a brewhouse with the hopes of using it for their own purposes, but their circumstances have changed and they are looking to sell this.  So there isn’t much more to say than this:  If you are looking for a 10BBL brewhouse with all the parts and potentially someone to help consult with you, send me an email, and I can connect the two of you.  I don’t know the price, and I don’t even know all the equipment that is included in this set-up, but from the quality of the individual who is selling it, I am sure it will work out well.

If anyone you know is looking for used equipment, please pass along this information.  I know it is very difficult to find equipment in the marketplace, given the growth of craft beer throughout North America.  Having  an inside line like this can be a huge help in starting a business and saving cash on the most important part of your business.

As always, send any information to:

startingacraftbrewery@gmail.com

 

The jobs involved in opening a brewery …

There are many things to do in starting a business, that much is for sure.  But let me be the first to say that there are about twice as many jobs to get done as you first anticipate, when you are conjuring up your business plan months and years before actually taking that leap of faith.  With the help of this post, you can plan ahead, learn some skills, mentor from someone who has experience, take a few classes, or just meet someone with a complimentary skill set to yours.

In no particular order, here are the things you need to be good at:

  1. Salesperson:  Maybe I put this first because I feel like there is so much of this process that you need to get buy-in on.  Whether it be your spouse and why they should support you in opening a craft brewery, investors to see a bright future in your business, or even possible partners to believe in what you are doing, you are always pitching an idea to someone it seems.  Not a lot of people have sales experience, so I would recommend Spin Selling by Neil Rackham
  2. Janitor:  Get really good at sweeping.  This means finding a messy floor somewhere and getting a good broom and going to town.  A couple techniques.  There is the long stroke or the short stroke.  I seem to prefer long strokes on smooth surfaces and short strokes on rough surfaces
  3. Accounting:  There is no way you want to get behind on this one.  From the start, have a good idea of your plan for taking care of the books and reporting this information.  We use an accountant and they have set us up on a system that works with their office.  Essentially, we track everything in quickbooks, pay every bill and invoice, and then push this to them at the end of the year.  Easy enough, but it was a long road to get here.  My recommendation is to use Quickbooks, which is available online for $250.00 or so.
  4. Digger:  Another really important skill to have.  I suggest you head to the beach, and try digging a couple holes and a trench.  Do this a couple times a week, so that when it comes time to dig up floors, or shovel dirt, you are in prime shape to make this happen.  A key here is to manage your shovel loads.  Not too much dirt now …
  5. Marketing:  I have always kept marketing separate from sales as I think they are 2 very different things.  In short, marketing is the long term plan and vision for your brand, and sales is the day-to-day activity.  Read some books, look at other companies, brands and marketing whenever you can, and learn from others who specialize in this to get a better understanding of what you should (and shouldn’t) do.  My book recommendation here is Permission Marketing by Seth Godin.
  6. Steelworker:  My hands don’t lie, you will need to get good installing and tying rebar and wire.  I suggest you go get a job tying rebar for a week at a local construction site.  Make a B-Line for the site super and tell them how your baby soft hands are in need of toughening up.  Don’t forget to strengthen your lower back as well, as you will be bending over for most of the day.  Just find your happy place, and try to think about how great it will be to serve your beer to the world when you are finished.
  7. Decision Maker:  You will need to to learn how to make decisions based on the advice of others.  It will often involve a complex set of parameters with varying opinions, the exact answer you must decide on your own.  Good examples is whether to lease that warehouse that is empty or what floor plan to use for your brewery.  You will get opinions from realtors, bankers, lawyers, engineers, accountants, architects, and even your friends and family, but at the end of the day, you make the decisions, so don’t overlook or underestimate what is important to you and how this decision will play out long term.  My book recommendation is Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, a must read.
  8. Painter:  Up, down, up, down, repeat.  Think of Mr Muyagi in the Karate Kid, and practice for painting with painting.  This process should actually start with power washing, so find a dirty piece of concrete and let loose about 1,000 PSI to see what it feels like.  When you have mastered use of the wand, you can move to painting.  This involves a lot of cutting plastic poly, taping, and scraping.  So get ready for the time of your life!  Remember patience is the key to getting a good paint job.
  9. Social Media:  There are some breweries that open and they have put nothing out there, while there are others who tell everyone what they are doing every step of the way.  I wouldn’t say one approach is right and the other is wrong, I would just say if you aren’t active in social media, at least understand what is happening and how you will take part in that down the road.  My book recommendation here is Guerrilla Marketing
  10. Psychologist:  When you are dealing with trades people, construction workers, and general labourers you are going to hear stories that will make you cringe and make you smile all at the same time.  Time to talk some sanity into these people!
  11. Human Resources:  you are going to hire people down the road, so its important that you understand what skills your team has, and what skills you would like to add to the mix.  Without question, every person you hire is important, but the first couple out of the gate will truly make or break you.  Hiring for Attitude is my book recommendation for this bucket
  12. Bathroom Cleaner:  Thats right!  Get down on your hands and knees and scrub.  Great preparation would be to head into your local Frat house and start cleaning the toilets.  You see, trades people have the aim of a 3 year old boy, and the cleanliness of …. well a construction worker.  So rubber gloves and eye protection are mandatory, while hazmat suit and respirator are optional.
  13. Copywriter:  A bit of sales and a bit of marketing in here, but that is not the point.  You need to be able to convey information to others in written word.  Whether it is your brand statement to consumers, a letter to your architects expressing your desire for changes to a plan, or the content on your website, you need to be able to write in concise terms.  Personally, I am not the best at this, as those who read my blog with regularity can attest, but it sure is something you can work on … like I do in writing this blog.  My book recommendation is Writing that Works.
  14. Phone Hanger Upper:  You will get good at hanging up the phone.  This is a product of having a lot of phone calls, but also a lot of telemarketers call.  I find the best way to get out of the conversation is to cut yourself off mid-sentence, that way the other person will think the line was disconnected.  Don’t hang up while they are talking, as it is a giveaway you did the dirty.
  15. Retail Manager:  A huge portion of a new breweries sales take place at the tasting room and growler fill area.  For a company like Brassneck, the experience they gained from their previous experiences only helped to make their retail experience what it is …. amazing.  Same goes for Bomber and others, as their retail experience only helped them to make sure they got the retail area perfect.  For us, we need to find help on that front.  We need someone who will understand what we are doing, and help us to nail it.  We are looking for this person and hopefully they can come on board at the right time.
  16. Mechanic:  We have yet to experience this one for the most part, but it would be wise to learn some basic skills around fixing things.  I have heard the horror stories of things breaking down and needing repair in a brewhouse are too numerous to mention, so knowing what to do, or who to  call is a very important component of keeping operations smooth.  Remember, red is positive and black is negative.
  17. Delivery Person:  When the production gets going, we know that a good portion of time will be driving around and dropping off product.  We view this interaction as very important, and something that we need to do in person.
  18. Production:  Maybe I put this last because it is the most important on this list.  I still maintain that we can get everything else on this wrong, or not have any skills in those areas, but as long as you make a quality product that is consistent, you will do well.  Maybe I am a little naive, but having good beer will make everything else easier.  So this is where you need to make a choice:  Either find someone who knows and wants to handle production, or learn the skills necessary yourself.  Guys like Ben Coli are a good example of someone who wanted to handle production themselves.  I would be antithesis of this, as I always knew there would be someone else handling this part of operations.  I think at the end of the day, you need to decide what role in the business you want to have, and go for it.  Book recommendation here is any and every book that has to do with brewing or production.

The most interesting thing about this list is that you will be doing all of these things on a daily basis.  There are days I go from item to item to item, and then I repeat a few of them.  That makes the job interesting, but also means you have to get really good at prioritizing, multi tasking, and working in several silos all at the same time.  For instance, as I write this post I am also answering emails, texting my partner and yelling at my kids!

General Contractors and Sub-contractors

One of the most important decisions you can make is around construction of your brewery.  Do you want to have a general contractor guide the process, or do you feel like you have enough time and energy to take the lead on piecing together the build-out?  Depending on your skills, the amount of time you have, your preference for this kind of thing and most importantly your budget, your decision may already be made for you.

We decided to work with a general contractor, Graham Disher of Disher Contracting.  The process for looking to team with a contractor was relatively painless, as at the end of the day, we decided to work with someone that was willing to work with our constraints.  In other words, we are able to offer some ownership shares in lieu of having to raise the money and then pay it as a fee.  In fact, because craft beer is growing so much right now, you could take this approach with many of the different trades that come through your space, and you would be able to do well for yourself in foregoing fees.

At any rate, Graham was also a good choice for more than just his willingness to work with us.  He had the time to dedicate towards our project, he has good experience that will serve us well in various aspects of the buildout, he was trustworthy (and he has continued to show us that), and what he doesn’t know, he goes about learning in a quick and positive manner.  When you add all these things up, we felt good about teaming with Graham Disher, and we would not hesitate to recommend him for your brewery (once he is finished ours of course).  Get in touch with me if you want to be connected, as he is one of those contractors who is too busy to worry about a website and all that.  In other words, he is hard to find online.

Back to the process of looking for a general contractor.  We met with 4 different GC’s after tossing around the names of about 12 or 15 that were passed our way or in our “rolodex”.  The 4 we met with all had experience, but were all at different stages of their business life cycle.  One company had been around for about 30 years, another just a couple years.  When you meet with these companies you take a list of questions, usually around the process of working with them, budgeting, who is on job, costs, estimates for work, their ideas for your job, experience in this field, etc.  When you start asking questions you will clearly see that there is a big difference in how each of these guys run their business.  Everything from their presentation, to how they budget, when they invoice, what jobs they sub-out, and so on.

What we came to was a list of pro’s and con’s for each contractor, which you then weigh against all the other factors.  Big ones for us include:  What is their mark-up, when could they start, who is going to be site supervisor, how much time are they going to dedicate, how many other jobs do they have, what is their crew like, what is their vision for the project,  what is their timeframe, what are the biggest challenges and how will they overcome, how are they with change … you get the drift.

As for subcontractors, this is really a 2 step process.  The first is to meet with various sub trades that are going to be important to your job.  Likely you will meet with electrical and mechanical  trades people.  You will also do this with the help of your general contractor.   The first objective of meeting with them is to understand what changes you can make to your plans to save money, while at the same time meeting with them to understand who is going to be the best fit for your project.  We met with 4 or 5 electrical and 4 or 5 mechanical contractors.  That allowed us to get some feedback and gauge who was going to work within our constraints the best.  Usually you are basing discussions off a set of drawings that aren’t yet complete.

Hopefully soon after this you will get some IFC drawings for the build-out, and then you can distribute to the 2 or 3 sub-trades that you think would be the best fit.  Once you get the estimates back, you can play them however you like, to try and get a better deal and position the job in the best position for your interests.  For us, number one was not money believe it or not … it was time.  Who could get started and complete the job (in other words, who could dedicate the most manpower to this job) in a fair period of time.  Second was money for us.  Of course all the companies we met with had the proper experience and were keen to be a part of this … that was just standard.

We picked our Electrical Contractor – Clear Energy Solutions.  They have solution in their name for a reason.  They offered us great advice on what to change and what could be streamlined to save money and time.  I would highly recommend these guys to  be at least a part of the bidding process.

We picked our Mechanical Contractor – Nathan from Meridian.  They are a great outfit that has experience in residential and commercial work, they were willing to work with our timeline and they were excellent on price.  I would also recommend these guys to anyone else for all their mechanical needs.

If you want more information on any of this stuff, let me know and I would be happy to add to the information I have put out there.  Bottom line, there are lots of great companies and lots of bad companies and general contractors to work with, just make sure you take your time to make the right choice.  Saving a little money won’t seem worth it if you have to spend extra time on a project.