Tag Archives: 2014 new breweries

34 days out …. sneak peak at our Layout

Not much to say on this post.  I am a little foggy this morning, and needing to get 2 blog posts out as I missed one from yesterday.  The first post today will be around the finalized layout and look of our tasting room, and the exterior elevation of our space

We agonized for months over how exactly to design and locate the entire production and front of house spaces.  There were likely 5 or 6 meetings with our architects to get this correct, and hopefully at the end of the day, we got it right from a production standpoint, but also a tasting room standpoint.

Some keys about the front of the house:

  • The tasting room has a direct connection to the brewhouse, where most of the fun stuff happens in brewing beer
  • The art gallery is directly connected to the tasting room, allowing people to view some artwork while they visit the brewery
  • We have 2 long communal tables, which is a direct result of bring people together through beer.  If you want to come to our brewery and sit quietly on your own, you might have a tough time
  • We will have lots of natural light.  There are about 14 windows across the front, that will provide heaps of natural light into the space
  • There is a moderately separated retail area from the tasting room, which will allow the patrons of each to not interfere with each others good time
  • The lines from our serving tanks to the tasting room are crazy short, as the cooler is right there
  • The front of the house has really high ceilings, something you can’t really see in the drawings, hopefully making the space very interesting and welcoming

As for the exterior of the building, not much to do other than clean it up, repaint and put a few new doors in to make the building secure and a little more functional.

There was a lot of found value in the space, which we have tried to salvage and add to in a positive and authentic manner.  Both Iain and like things that are authentic and interesting, and we hope to have created a space that is, if nothing else, both of these things.  We hope you pop-in and say hi the next time you are in the area.

Architectural drawings Oct 31.2014

 

Marketing Decisions

One thing I have underestimated up until now is the number of decisions that need to be made for marketing.  I always thought the big marketing decisions were the tough ones, but now walking through this process, it is the small ones that suck all your time and cause the most headaches with the schedule.  Paying others to do some of your work will help bring in a fresh opinion, move things forward, and get you to a place you wouldn’t otherwise have gotten.  It will still take hard work and lots of re-working things to get them right.

As a craft brewery, we kind of thought that marketing was secondary to making really great beer, and having a great tasting room to hang out in.  For the most part, it still is but the gap has narrowed quite measurably.  With so many amazing breweries swinging open their doors in the past few years (Brassneck, Parallel 49 Brewing, Powell Street Brewing, Postmark, 33 Acres, Steel and Oak, Yellow Dog, Main Street, and many more), it is now imperative that your brand be spot on.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you need to have a perfect brand for customers to see, rather I think you need to achieve a few important things in your message:  Authenticity, why you did this, and what makes you so different.

Yes, yes the quality of beer is still paramount.  Make crappy beer or have the same selection of beer at your brewery week in and week out, and you will find yourself floundering.  At the end of the day, consumers care most about this.  But the people that spend their hard earned dollars at breweries also want to see a brand that meets their expectations.  What makes it harder for a brewery to meet these expectations, is that no 2 people have the same ones.  Some want authentic, and others want playful, some want seriousness, and others want unique.  What do you want?

Getting back to my original point, we decided to go in the direction of making something we think is representative of us.  Authentic, Fun, and pretty straight forward.  However, what you set out to do, like everything in this process, is not necessarily what we are going to end up with.  You see, making thousands of decisions over a period of months, if not years, puts you down a path that you didn’t necessarily intend.

For instance, we always wanted our brand to be what it has become.  But to think that we named our company Strange Fellows Brewing is somewhat comical.  My partner and I always wanted a more serious name, but through indecision, other names being taken (this is huge) and the input of others, we ended up with Strange Fellows.  This set off a cascade of events that has slowly morphed our brand into something that neither of us could have imagined.

Also changing where we ended up is the list of decision that we needed to make, with each of these decisions having hundreds of little decisions to make the big decision:

  • website design and look and feel – hundreds of decisions in this bucket
  • can versus bottle versus growler – design, size and look
  • label for all product
  • logo – you will need to pick something that works on its own, with your can design, and in sizes all the way up to a decal on your car to sign-post at your brewery
  • bottle cap
  • merchandise
  • growler design
  • your story and how it relates to your brand
  • business cards
  • tasting room design meshed with your personal taste, budget and consumers taste

Each of these, and many others, have hundreds of layers to the decisions you need to make.  Its not as simple as just making the choice and living with it in a bubble.  Your decisions are not mutually exclusive, as one decision will impact another, often forcing you to rethink exactly what you are doing.  Let me give you an example.

We knew we wanted to put our beer into cans, so we charged ahead with this.  However, we didn’t know what kind of beer to put into cans.  So we had to decide which of our favourites we were going to brew, and put that out there to the world, without ever actually brewing these beers.  Which means you need to talk about flavour, alcohol percentage, etc without ever having tasted the beer.  Then you need to make a description of the beer, a beer name, a theme to your beer, create a UPC code, get preliminary approval from the LDB, get all the details on the can correct and be happy with where it is at about 10-12 weeks before you plan on packaging this product.  You see, cans need to be manufactured and that takes some time, which means before you even do anything, you need to have all your marketing complete.

It also means that once you make decisions, going back on those decisions will change other aspects of the design.  Invariably you will makes changes, and while you have your head down in the sand making all these decisions and changes, you end up with a can that may be great, but also may be quite far from where you intended to end up.  We’d be lying if we didn’t admit to this, as well as every other craft brewery in the Province.  So go easy on those people who have missed the mark with their marketing, as they may have gotten to a place they didn’t intend, and have no way of getting out.

To me, marketing matters most in terms of how much I connect with a brand.  This is everything from; what are the owners like, what is their message, what does the beer taste like, what are their thoughts on craft beer, why are they making beer, is this their passion, what other breweries do they like, and are they helping to keep Vancouver at the forefront of craft beer.  If a brand conveys all this information to me, or if I pick up on these things along the way, my decision on whether I like the brand is already made.  A company could miss 2 or 3 of these things and be alright, but if they miss 2 or 3 of these things and one of them is the quality of the beer, then I will move on.

For us, we’ve had the luxury of time, which has been our worst enemy for cash, but our best friend for crafting our story.  Having a brewery build-out that has taken about 9 months, in addition to a 12 month period that we were actively working on our brand, which comes after about 1 year of starting the process.  All this has meant we’ve been able to work out the kinks, and get it where we are pretty happy.  We could still make a few changes to our marketing, but for the most part we are pretty stoked about it.  I went through my diaries and have the following summaries from just our name selection:

  • January 2010 started working with my brother on a brand called The Crafty Monk
  • Over the next 18 months came up with a logo, and design for label
  • January 2012 met Iain Hill and started our partnership.
  • March 2012 Iain and I agree that we need to come up with a name together that is indicative of both us.
  • July 2012 changed name to Low Countries Brewing
  • Sept 2012 worked with Iain’s wife Christine on logo and branding.  We had a really tough time making the name look interesting and work well.
  • October 2013 after a year working with Low Countries Brewing, we decided to ditch the name as it was boring and not exactly what we wanted to do anymore,
  • January 2014 false start on Allegory brewing
  • February 2014 with our partnership about to dissolve over indecision about our name, we finally agree to Strange Fellows.
  • March 2014 to present we worked on our branding and marketing to end up where we are, which we hope is a pretty good place.

Without the time we had available to us, we might have ended up with a name like The Crafty Monk, or Allegory, both of which would have led us down a path that is much different than where we are today.  So take your time in making decisions, as creativity knows no time boundaries.  It would also relate to this entire process, as for us, getting all aspects of this project correct the first time is the most important thing.

 

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.

 

Hammering out the Electrical Details … its sometimes a 4 letter word!

Actual Conversation that took place at 9am Friday morning:

Matt: What about the following Electrical items:

8.1c-3, 4.32b-1, 8.0a-9

Iain: Where is that in the plans?

Matt: I can’t find them, do they even exist?

Iain: Here they are. A 5 horse power pump 3 phase 220 volt and 2 outlets

Matt: Those outlets and pump aren’t in my plans

Iain:  They are in my plans, but they are in the wrong spot

Matt: Where is the number for the engineer, I need to call him.

Get used to hearing these kinds of things when it comes to putting electrical infrastructure into your building. The work requires continuous attention to detail, and meetings between your electrician, electrical engineer, general contractor and the end-users (us)! There are lots of false starts and errors, so prepare mentally for this. Getting as much correct as you can early in the process will mean fewer change orders, which ends up saving you a lot of cash.

One of the biggest challenges we have had around the electrical work is the process. It is an inexact science and one that is full of frustration and teeth grinding. The process kind of goes like this:

  1. Pick your equipment and finalize this before anything else can start.
  2. Determine the power needs of that equipment.
  3. This is a chicken or egg thing. On much equipment, you can choose what kind of power it will take, which means you need to know what kind of power you have available. For much of your equipment you can have it made to the power you want to provide.
  4. Convey this information to the architect and electrical engineer who produce drawings for your electrician.
  5. Determining the exact location of the equipment on the floor plan. You need to have this buttoned down, so that all the information can go back up the line to everyone that needs it
  6. Make sure that all this stuff meshes with the latest version of your layout. Sometimes you electrician is working with non-current plans, which means that different tables and arrangements will result in different locations for power needs
  7. Making sure that the workers who are going to do the work know what is going on.
  8. Check back with everyone to make sure that all is ok.

Clearly, this is an inexact process. It is one that seems easy at first, but when you really look at it during the process, it is really hard. Trying to coordinate all of this is so difficult. We have had meetings where people literally leave steaming mad because they have been given the wrong information, or their workers haven’t followed the changes … there is a lot of coordinate.  Moreover, if you get anything wrong in that process you literally need to spend an hour push up and down the line to everyone else, explaining what happened and what the new plan is.

It is also important to get equipment using 600V where possible. In short, using a higher voltage makes electric motors more efficient, as there is less current needed. We are lucky in the sense that we have the power available to do this, after we are spending a bunch of money to upgrade the service from the street.

There is always going to be the stuff that people have overlooked. For instance our electrical engineer missed a couple pumps in our layout, so it was never discussed again until we found this out. When this happens, everyone scrambles to find these on the plans, and when you don’t you start to question what has happened and what you can do.

To help make this process easier, you should always try and work with professionals and engineers who are supreme communicators. You will need to be in constant contact to ensure that everyone is on the same page and everyone within their teams are also on the same page. It also helps that the electricians who are doing the work are committed to the job. If they can’t have someone at the brewery all day 4 days a week, you should look elsewhere.

Don’t forget to plan for power outages, and share the plan for renovations with everyone and every sub-trade. People need to know when power is going to be cut, when deliveries are being made and when floors are being coated. If you don’t coordinate this information, others will waste time and become increasingly frustrated with your job, potentially leading to bad outcomes down the road.

It becomes so apparent through this process that things like the electrical upgrade, floor issues, seismic needs, and sprinkler additions/installation are huge costs and enormous burdens to have to deal with. It is one of the reasons I have always told people who are interested in starting a brewery to make sure you find a space that has some of these things done. You may not be lucky enough to find one with everything completed, but the more of these major items completed, the quicker and cheaper your retrofit will be.