Tag Archives: Beer

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.

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Finally, answers to our Electrical Nightmare ….

I have begun to realize that not everyone who is helping to get this brewery off the ground is willing to work until 2am, or makes this job the sole focus on their day.  In other words, answers that I expect within a couple weeks, sometimes take the better part of a month.  Sometimes these answers are not needed, so the time to get a response is not important.  But it seems like we need most of these answers in a timely fashion, and they set in motion a cascade of changes elsewhere, and each successive change is just as important as the last.

One of these huge considerations is the electrical issues for our space.  I have blogged about it, and it seems like we have been close to an answer for the past few weeks.  This is likely the biggest and most important answer we have been waiting for throughout this process, as our decision to lease the space rests on the advice and information we gather.  A bill of under $100,000 and we are golden to carry on.  Anything over this and we have a tough decision to make, and anything well over this means our dream is going to be dead in the water.  Additionally, we have already extended our contract to lease our space with the landlord past what we agreed to.  We were supposed to give our landlord an answer if we wanted the space by the end of November and we asked for a month extension, given the electrical issues and the lack of an answer around our Development Permit.

So here we are at this point.  We have 2 weeks to decide if we want the space, as the landlord requires an answer by the first week of January.  We have received our development permit from the City of Vancouver, so we are able to brew beer in this space.  We need to submit our building permit drawings to the City of Vancouver, and we need to find a solution to the lack of electrical power our space has.

Well as of yesterday, we found a solution to our electrical problem.  It looks like we are going to cut the power to the whole building, and re-run new power that will be sufficient for everyone, including our brewery.  This means that instead of getting a bill for well over $100,000, we should now come in around $60,000-$80,000 on this fix.  We are still a little upset by the amount we have to spend, but it beats the alternative, which is a pad mounted transformer, and the cost of which is about $250,000.

This means that all we have to do is hammer out the final details of our lease with the landlord, and we are going to lease this space.  I can’t actually believe this is about to happen!  Its almost like I have to pinch myself.  I know there are a few key points to be ironed out with the landlord, like tenant versus landlord improvements, personal guarantee (not unlike a kick to family jewels) length, but most of the important items have already been agreed upon.  In fact, our landlord has been very helpful and accommodating in working with our needs and challenges.  While his patience has started to wear thin, we hope that he still wants to complete a deal with us, and dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.

I don’t want to get ahead of things, so I will leave our latest bit of good news at that.  I have learned from my mentors and peers that a deal is not done until you get a key to the front door, so I will not presume anything.  What I do know is this:  The lows we felt about things after our floor issues popped up, and then our electrical issues came to the front, have all been offset by the development permit we received, and then the answers around the electrical.

With any luck, we will have a firm deal in early January, submit our building permit application in 8 days, and start working on our brewery sometime in early March.  Should all this come together as we hope, we should be open for business sometime in August 2014.  Thats right, in about 8 months our brewery will be producing beer and slinging it to eager locals before you know it.

Given the amount of work to do, and the mountain we need to climb in order to get everything ready, I am going to take this Christmas break to relax and enjoy some time with my family.  The way things are shaping up, I may not see to much of them from February to August of next year.  Happy holidays to everyone that reads this blog and I hope you have a fantastic end to 2013.

Success …. Development Permit! Now what?

Today was a great day in our world:  We received news first thing this morning about the status of our Development Permit that was submitted to the City of Vancouver about 14 weeks ago.  Our permit was approved via rubber stamp by the City, which paves the way for us to move forward with permission to brew beer at our desired location.  In other words, from the City of Vancouver’s point of view, brewing beer in our chosen location is something we can do, should we want to do it.

I often hear that it is important to celebrate your successes, no matter how small, as you need to draw upon these when you are slugging it out in the trenches.  So tonight I have a smile.  Tonight, I feel like the dream of opening my very own craft brewery is one giant step closer to reality.  Tonight, I still feel in control of my own destiny.  Tonight, I feel re-energized and ready for the next challenge that I will face.  Tonight …… well if I keep going on it will soon be tomorrow morning.

While this success is great, we still have other challenges that are right before us.  The most important of those is finding a solution to this electrical issue.  We are underpowered at our space, and we are searching for economical ways around it.  It is painful to know that every conversation you have with electrical engineers and other professionals costs money, but what other options are there?

The latest update on the power is that we should know this week about what options are available, and then we can decide whether or not we want this space.  If we can keep the bill under $100,000, then I think we are going to move forward.  However, if we can’t find a way to keep the bill under this number, then I think we walk away.  Hydro and our electricians are busy scurrying around getting answers.

All the while this is going on, we are still working away on our building permit submission.  We have (rightly or wrongly) assumed that we will find an answer to the electrical issues, and given that we need to have a full set of plans ready for building permits ASAP.  Time is the big enemy here, as every delay in submitting our building permits is another day more that money just goes out the door.  If we can’t get our brewery up and running by August 1st, then we run the risk of needing more loans and lines of credit, and we also run the risk of missing out on the busiest time of year for breweries …. Summer.

Needless to say, with this small win, we are one step closer to making this dream a reality.  Tonight we celebrate, as tomorrow there is even more work to do.

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.

When to quit my paying job for one that costs me money?

One thing that I tended to overlook was the transition from working at my current job, to working at both jobs and then making the jump to the brewery full time.  It is a delicate balance, and one that had its ebbs and flows, so it can be a hard thing to judge when the right time is to make the move.

My journey started about 5 years ago, when I just couldn’t shake the dream of wanting to start a craft brewery.  I have always been an entrepreneur and at various times in my life, I have tried starting businesses, intermingled with jobs working for corporations, other entrepreneurs and multi-nationals.  There was the Crepe restaurant that I tried starting during University with my good friend, an advertising company we tried starting after University, and a destination based travel company I tried starting in the late 90’s.  All didn’t get off the ground, and looking back on those experiences, I am glad, as they would have likely prevented me from following this passion.

It was about 5 years ago that I needed a work/life plan to start a brewery.  I knew that there is a whack of work involved in starting a brewery, a lot of cash needed, and often that work revolved around times that were inconvenient to having a 9-5 job.  Most importantly, I knew that you couldn’t stop doing everything in favour starting a craft brewery, as the road to opening your doors is several years long, and that means no salary for a long time.  So I wrote my real estate exam, and became a realtor.  It was a tough few years, one that made me question what I was doing to my family and my life that seemed so normal and easy up until that point.

You see our life was comfortable.  Both my wife and I worked for large companies, which meant we brought home regular income, and had for the most part 9-5 jobs M-F.  Well when you get into real estate it is often the opposite of that.  Evenings and weekends, and work is excessively seasonal in the Spring and in the Fall.  This can be a real challenge when you have kids and friends who work in other M-F 9-5 jobs.  But it was my dream to start a craft brewery, and as such I thought the best way to have flexibility to start a brewery was to be a realtor, as the hours were flexible, there were some great skills I would learn, and it would provide me a little cash to pay for some of the expenses along the way.

Having walked this path for the past 5 years, there have been many highs and lows.  At the end of the day, there is no perfect job to have when you are looking to start a brewery, and depending on your situation, there are likely a variety of options that are best for you.  I have found the flexibility with my schedule and complimentary hours a positive in working real estate, and the lack of regular income and seasonality in work required with real estate the biggest challenges.

So all of this leads me to question when I should quit my real estate career in favour of working for the brewery full time.  The sooner I move to the beer business full time, the better my business will be prepared and planned.  The flip side is the longer our family will have to go on one income, and the greater the stress on my wife and kids.  I really don’t think there is an answer to this question, but I do feel like I am getting close to that point.  The 60 hour work weeks used to be enough to fit everything in, but now they are insufficient.  The space we are looking at leasing is requiring a lot of work and attention to detail, not to mention money.

I can see all of this leading to a point where I will be exhausted, broke, and likely as happy as a kid in a candy store.  I hope that I have the wisdom to make the right decision on when to break away from real estate, and focus on the brewery.  It doesn’t feel quite right yet, but I expect by the end of the year, when we have our space leased and operations set for a grand opening in 2014 sometime, the right time will emerge.

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.

Raising Money …. Almost there

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading this post ….