Tag Archives: BC

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.

Webcam is up … and almost working perfect

We have added a webcam to our brewhouse, and after earning a undergraduate degree in this kind of thing, it is now live.  While there is nothing to see this weekend, and the feed needs a little refinement, we are now able to broadcast live the process of starting a brewery.

We hope that in combination with this blog, and the other information we have put into the world, we will encourage many others to follow their dream and start a craft brewery.  It is a labour of love, but something that you will never regret IMO.

Anyhow, we will be sure to post a schedule of when things are happening, so that you can watch the process of starting a brewery from the comforts of your own home.

Click here for the link and I promise that within a couple days the feed will be more clear.  For now, the camera is pointing to the South half of our warehouse, but as things happen it will shift back and forth between both areas, so you can see everything that is going on.

Thanks for the Support

Not much to say here, but thanks for the support and words of encouragement I have received from everyone who visits my blog.  I want everyone to know that I am touched by the kind words you have passed along, and the nice things you have to say about what I am doing.  It motivates me at times like this (12:45am Wednesday morning) to write my blog and take the time to connect with others.

When I started out in this process, I found there was a lot of information online, but a lack of details on what to do and how to get it done.  There were a few other blogs, but nothing itemizing the process of inception to brewery opening.  So it was my idea to add to the information out there in small way.  To see the positive feedback and read the messages that people are sending me has truly blown me away.

So thank you to everyone that visits this blog. I hope I can continue writing posts and inspiring others, as I was inspired by others who started on the path to realizing their dreams before getting ‘off the couch’ myself.  There is a quote that I love, and it goes like this.  “A dream doesn’t come reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”  Colin Powell (I think).  This is more true than you can ever realize.  I would probably add to this a little luck and a lot of sleepless nights.

As always, if you have any questions, or if there is anything you would ever like me to discuss, please contact me and I will blog about it when I can find the time.

Building Permit submitted

This past week we have successfully submitted our building permit to the City of Vancouver for our the building we are hoping to lease.  It seems so absolutely absurd to submit our building permit without actually having a signed lease in place, but we are making a huge roll of the dice on this.  When you start down the road of starting a brewery, a funny thing happens.  You start doing things that previously you would have thought were crazy.  Things like submitting a building permit without a lease in place!

Let me take a step back and explain things.  When I started off doing creating this brewery, I was quite a bit more risk adverse.  I would avoid over-exposing myself on most anything in business and finances.  Take for instance a personal guarantee, it is something I would have fought tooth and nail not to do about 2 years ago.  However, as time moves on and you are constantly taking chances and risks, what at one time seemed risky, now seems somewhat ordinary.  A good analogy would be bungy jumping.  The first time is scary as hell, the second time a little less so, and so on.  By the 15th time, it is still a rush, but a lot of the fear and inhibition has left the process.

So here we are, development permit in hand, building permit submitted, yet our brewery still has no name and still has no firm lease.  It is exactly the opposite of where I thought we would be considering my personality and this process.  It is where we are however, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.  I hope that we can have our lease signed in the next week, but it seems to keep dragging out and being delayed.  I am sure this will come to a rapid close in the next week, as there is literally nothing left to be done.  Luckily, I have a great group of friends, advisors and family members that have supported me.  Even with all these people around, and experience I have gained, I have learned that nothing is for sure, so my fingers are crossed.

Moving forward, we are going to have to make some big decisions.  Things like contractor, name, equipment, branding and marketing, finishing of tasting room, types of beer, exact size of serving bottle/can, financing to be finished, first hires, legals, accounting, delivery vehicles, etc, etc.  It seems like a mountain of work, but when you work in your own garden, it doesn’t feel much like work.  We potentially take possession of our space February 1st, and while we won’t be able to do much until we get our building permits, I do anticipate some epic floor hockey games.  Anyone want to join me :o)

My next blog will hopefully share some great news  about our lease and officially help our brewery become the newest entrant to the craft beer scene in Vancouver.

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.

Nothing to do but Everything to do

Some days I feel like there is nothing that needs to be done in particular.  Whether its marketing, the business plan, finances, cash flow, collecting money, etc., there never seems to be a timeline on getting some of these things done.  But when you take a moment and look from 50,000 feet at what you have to accomplish before you sell your first beer and HOLY CRAP, there is a lot to do.

All of this means that starting a business, and in particular this brewery, results in having a lot on your mind.  I’m not talking about when you are in the shower, or making dinner …. I mean in the middle of the night, or when you should be engrossed by something else like a CFL game, or the company of a great friend.  It is so easy to let thoughts of your business, and the work that is undone, creep into your mind and send you on the path of mental anguish.

Tonight is a great example of that.  I would like nothing better than to sit down and turn my mind off the task at hand, but there are a few things on my mind:  I have a Brand Guide that needs attention, emails to investors to follow-up on progress, work with an architect on the space we are trying to lease, a meeting on Monday with our Accountant to prepare for, documents that our Lawyer needs returned, emails that need to be answered, a business plan that needs to be updated before it is PDF’d, decisions on equipment that need to be made, more requests sent to suppliers and manufacturers for additional quotes, contractors that need to be interviewed for work required, and most importantly this blog which needs to be attended to (I will get a check on that after this).

All of this makes me realize that Entrepreneurs are both made and born.  You have to like the  chaos that comes from this process …. the constant juggling and prioritizing of tasks, working in the trenches, while at the same time, working like a VP, and the constant struggle between what you really want to do, and what the market wants you to do.  You also have to be able to turn it off, and it is something that requires constant reminders of this.

So with the end of this blog, I am going to make a to do list for tomorrow, and turn-off my mind.  I am reminded what one of my good friends and mentors tells me …. starting and running a business is a marathon in that requires a balance of running harder to stay ahead of things and laying back to regain some strength.  Tonight might be some time to regain some strength.

Everything rests on the floors … Literally!

When you start out with the dream of opening a brewery, there are a bunch of things that you dream about.  For instance; where you are going to brew your beer, what your brand will look like, how good it will to be your own boss, and most importantly what kind of beer you are going to brew.  Further down the list, you think about other details like cans vs bottles, unitanks vs fermenting & conditioning tanks, or what kind of delivery truck you are going to have.  Then there is a bunch of items that you generally don’t give much thought to:  When to have your fiscal year-end, do you want your coasters to be printed on one side or both, and who your accountant is going to be.

Even further below this is flooring, one of the things you tend to not think about at any stage of starting a brewery, other than when you are looking at warehouses to lease.  Well you probably guessed it, we are at that time and place now.  We have submitted an offer on a space to lease, and we are currently negotiating back and forth with the landlord.  We are hopeful that things are going to move ahead, so we have really started to focus on the details about this space.  Important considerations when you think about having a lease for 10 years.

You see, a floor in a warehouse is nothing like a floor in a house …. which is the only real reference point I have for this kind of thing.  A floor in a house is usually flat, and if it isn’t, you make it flat, put in the flooring and underlay of your choice and voila!  A floor in a warehouse is a much different beast.  Most importantly, the floor in a warehouse needs to take a load.  The floors usually have a PSI rating, and that determines how much of a load you can put on the floor.  In other words, a higher PSI rating for a floor is a good thing in the world of brewing, as you are putting several metric tonnes of tanks and other equipment onto it.

Well the floors in the warehouse that we want to lease aren’t the greatest.  They have settled in several areas, and they don’t have a high enough of a PSI rating.  This means we are going to have to fix this problem if we lease the space, and that costs a lot of ‘jack’.  The most important question we have to ask is why have the floors settled?  There are 3 possible reasons for this:  1) The preparation for the floor was done poorly in the first place.  2) There was organic material left in the ground (like old trees and roots), and they have wasted away to nothing causing the floor to settle  3) There is some problem that is slowly washing away the substrate leaving a nothing where there was once material.

Well this is the point that we are at now.  Do we move forward with the space, knowing that the bill for the floors could be somewhere from $50,000 to $200,000 (and by the way we only have $75,000 in our budget), or do we say everything else seems really good about this space, but the floors are too much of a question mark, so we walk away.  This is the question that we are faced with this week.  It is both an emotional decision for me (I love the space and want to get this brewery off the ground) and also a business decision (I have to do what is right for my investors).

I am hopeful that we have the wisdom and support from engineers and other professionals to make the right decision.  As you can tell, the road to starting a brewery is full of pot holes and hazards.  But if you can successfully navigate those things, then the reward is greater than most anything else in the world.