Tag Archives: Brassneck Brewing

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

 

36 days out … Use a Notebook and to do list!

Of the many things this process has taught me, there are several that stand out as key learnings overall.  Its hard to say how one should practice for these things, but likely knowing about them, reading books about them, and talking with others about them are a huge help.

The first thing that I have learned is how to get things done.  I feel like I have always been quite productive in my life.  Not quite sure where I got this, but ever since I turned 30, I have increasingly become a highly productive machine.  To that end, one of the best books I read for preparing for this venture was Getting Things Done by David Allen.  You will not be disappointed if you make the time to read this book.  It will help you be more productive with your days, and organize your life to stay on top of all the details.

Another trait that I knew was deep inside me, but never really exposed is an ability to work long hours with little sleep.  Normally, I am a high energy guy, so when it comes to sleep I like to get 7 hours of bed time a night.  Continuing to exercise and stay fit means that sleep is important.  However, for the past couple months, this has been shaved down to about 5.5 – 6 hours per night, with one night a week at 12.  I find I am capable of this, definitely a little more grumpy, unhappy, etc, but that should be expected.  Find your ability to work long and hard, and you will be in a good position to succeed.

One last trait, one that might just possibly be the most important trait is the ability to not get overwhelmed by the gravity of this situation.  Really, this is one of the most stressful and intense situations an average person could go through, and with the help of friends and family, I have managed to stay positive and on track.  If you have a tough time dealing with stress and multi-tasking, you will need to either take course, read or learn to deal with this possibility.

Another huge help is always having a notebook that contains a to do list.  Make sure you cross things out when they are complete, so you can get the satisfaction of accomplishing something. To do lists are key as are notebooks with all your notes from meetings and discussions.  I can’t tell you how many times I have referenced the book to find something I have been looking for.

Until next post, keep on keeping on!

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.

 

Hitting the Wall

Today I lost my shit at about 4pm.  After a week of burning the candle at both ends, getting only about 5 hours sleep a night, and having one of the busiest weeks of the year, I literally melted at about 4pm.  I couldn’t talk, hold a conversation, engage with my wife or kids, or even crack a smile.  The burden of this brewery, and all the associated mental and physical work involved got the better of me.

So instead of writing about this, or anything else, I am going to take the rest of the night off and get some rest.  I had planned to write about best practices for concrete, mechanical and trade waste interceptor, but it will have to wait for another day.

I feel I have been ignoring this blog, so I do feel bad about not writing too much of late, but I hope that next week will be a chance to write more.  Thanks to everyone for your continued support and I hope to have some good articles this week.

The toll this brewery is taking on me

There are so many amazing parts to starting your own business.  Things like never having a boss again, being able to build a business and brand, making choices based on your own preferences and opinions, and how every day is a new and amazing adventure.  These are experiences beyond words and they have helped to make the process of starting a craft brewery all that you think it would be.  The other side of this equation involves many other experiences and instances that are less than glamorous, or things that become worse through this process.

One of these things is the relationship you have with family and friends.  It is not that the business directly effects these relationships, rather the extra time and attention starting a business takes will eat into the amount of time you have for those close to you.  It is a slippery slope to walk, and one that you will often find yourself on the wrong side of.  There are many ways to get back to the other side, but it takes ingenuity and changing the established patterns you have …. and lots of coffee.

For me family is everything.  I love spending time with my wife and kids.  For the most part it is a release from the challenges and grind that makes up starting a business.  However, that can become a challenge when you have a list of 40 or 50 hours of work sitting on your desk.  Things like entering information into Quickbooks, marketing, ordering equipment, budget revisions, brewhouse work, manual labour, meeting with trades people, and even writing this blog.  All these things help to chip away at any sense of release you can enjoy when not at your desk.  In other words, your mind starts to wander when you let it, when sometimes what you need is to forget about the business.  That is always easier said than done.

Starting a brewery also means that you have a LOT less time for family and friends.  Saturdays become work days, early mornings are the domain of getting to-do’s checked off your list and late nights are for preparing for the following day.  Sitting with my wife watching a little TV, figuring out who is working when, or even talking about life seems like something we rarely do anymore.  Life is busy enough with all that is going on, but to think how much time I have taken away from focusing on my life partner is a little alarming.  Same goes for my kids.  I have been accustomed to being there for my kids over the past 7 years.  I pride myself on coaching their sports teams, dropping off and picking up them from school, and helping with the myriad of chores around the house.  All of these things become much harder to do when you are focusing on your selfish dreams.

This selfishness is something we all deal with at some point.  Maybe you are looking for additional work to pay off some bills, or you are back in school trying to get a degree, or maybe you are starting a brewery!  No matter how you break it down, being selfish results in different things at different times in your life.  When you are in your 20’s, focusing on yourself is a lot easier that your 30’s, when family becomes a (really good) drain on your time.  Now that Iain and I are into our early 40’s, the lack of time for family and friends is only made worse by a lack of energy.

So with all this in mind, I should officially take this forum to apologize to my dear family and my amazing friends.  I am sorry that you don’t see me as much, or hear from me as much as you have in the past.  Or when I am around I might be distracted or preoccupied with thoughts of my life.  Just know that during this chapter of my life, my focus has changed and that I hope balance and normalcy will return one day.  Until then, maybe tell me to lighten up or crack a joke when you can, it will help me be in the moment.

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!

An Uncomfortable Decision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Landing Page Is Live

The process of getting all your customer facing material complete is full of ups and downs, set-backs and great moments.  For some reason, we always seem to be behind everyone else in getting this stuff complete!  If you have followed this blog, you know that things like our name, our logo and our packaging are works in progress.  Some days it feels like we will never get all the the items completed in time for launch which is now less than 5 months away.  Yikes!

This week we crossed of one small piece of our brand off the list:  Our Landing Page.  It was completed over the course of about 12 weeks, and while it is pretty simple, the process was full of change and tough decisions.  In the end, we are super happy with what we ended up having.  If you want to view our landing page, click on this link to be redirected.

Key learnings from landing page development, and web development for that matter:

  1. Start on this sooner rather than later:  Don’t wait as long as we did.  Consumers want to connect with you, so make sure you allow them the opportunity to do that.
  2. Expect 12 weeks start to finish:  If you are anything like us, there will be changes, u-turns, miscommunication, and a few other things that I can’t even mention.  All this makes a rather simple task a lot more of a grind.
  3. Prepare a brand guide:  This is a key step in the process to getting your brand ideal and message known to yourself, and then to others who are going to work with you.  Don’t leave it to a 30 minute meeting to let a web developer get a feel for your brand.  There has to be something concrete they can sit and read, minimizing the margin for error.
  4. It takes a while to see progress:  It feels like trying to get out of bed some mornings.  There are a couple false alarms, there is snooze involved, a little confusion, and a lot of light steps to get going.  Sometimes, after getting going, you just head back to bed and let it go for a little.  Building a website is a LOT like this.
  5. Stay connected with those helping:  No doubt about it, the more leash you give someone, the more likely they are to go down the wrong path and end up at a place that doesn’t mesh with you and your brand plan.  So have regular meetings and ask to see enough information to be kept abreast of things.
  6. Get detailed scope of work:  When you first sit down to finalize an agreement with a developer lets say, you will agree to a scope of work for your project.  If you want to add something down the road that is not in this scope of work, you are going to pay out of pocket.  As such, either agree to a rate for extra work, or budget in 10% of the total hours for misc work.
  7. Speak up: If you don’t say what you do and don’t like, you will not end up with a finished product that matches what you thought you would have.
  8. Balance:  Not sure what else to put as a heading here.  Sometimes you need to let someone else decide what is best for your brand, which goes against your taste or preference.  Others you need to get that person to change direction, against what they like.  It is a balance and one with no prescribed way of moving forward.  Just hope that you, or those you surround yourself with, have enough similarity and differences in opinion for a healthy relationship.
  9. Build from Scratch or use a wordpress:  Thats right, you will need to decide whether your website is built from scratch or uses wordpress as the foundation.  One costs more, but gives you a very custom website, and the other is much less expensive.
  10. Do something unique:  For us, in addition to writing this blog about starting our brewery, we added a webcam to our website, so people who are interested can view what is going on during construction without having to be there.  Just having another website with the usual information is not enough in my opinion.  Craft beer is booming, which is a great thing in so many ways, but also means you need to stand out a little bit.
  11. Brand Continuity:  Make sure that your website reflects who you are, the beer you are going to make, the brewery you are going to build, and what you think you should represent.  If you get away from this, you will end up at a place that is entirely what you don’t want.

So there it is.  Another set of best practices for starting a brewery.  There is so much more to a website than meets the eye, so don’t take this for granted.  Get thinking about this early on, and start much sooner than you think you need to.

Floorplan Update and Best Practices

Some of you may have come across a story written by Greg Clow of Canadian Beer News.  If you live in Canada and you are serious about beer, you should be checking his website on a regular basis.  Click here to link with our story and Canadian Beer News.  His article focused on Strange Fellows operations and what our full floor plan will look like when complete.

I have included both the layout we have moved forward with as well as the side profile of the space, so you can get a sense of the way our operations will look.  Not unlike anything else we put out there, things will change somewhat as we move ahead; however, 90% of what is on paper here will be represented in our build-out at the space.  Once you commit to submitting building, electrical and mechanical permits, you are also committing to what you have on paper.  So in other words, the size of a window in our tasting room that overlooks the brew house may get bigger, but we have committed the location for the bathrooms, the trade waster interceptor and the trenches.

Brewhouse Layout March 2014

Brewhouse Profile March 2014

We have allocated a total of $12,500 for permits throughout this process.  I have blogged about them a little bit under The Process of Starting a Craft Brewery, subcategory X:  Government Stuff.  There are lots of permits you need and getting them all in a timely manner is important.  To be honest, the process of preparing for permits and approval is one of the keys to getting this process right.  In short, for your business to move forward you need to submit for your permits in a timely manner, with information that is well thought out, thorough and correct.  Changes or missed steps here will cost you down the road.  Read more about permits at the page linked above (and I will add more details in the next week).

Anyhow, coming full circle here, our floor plan was a real labour of love.  Like any decisions you make with a partner, there is give and take.  However, when you add in an architect, mechanical and electrical engineers, a general contractor and your finances, you get a mish-mash of opinion and information.  You can never make a decision without effecting every other decision you have made in the past, and every other decision you will make in the future.

Some of the keys when creating a floor plan are as follows:

  • Keep everything as central as possible.  The longer runs you have for any electrical or mechanical, the more cash you will bleed.  For us, moving our main electrical panel 10 feet saved us $3,000.  So you can see that small changes can make a big difference.
  • Plan for the future, but prioritize getting to day 1.  It is important to think a couple of steps ahead here, at least that is what I have heard from other breweries, but don’t lose sight that you need to get to day 1.
  • Look to save money at every step.  Ok, maybe you are better at this than I am, but we are in full cash saving mode, and we feel like we have been for a long time.  Any chance we can save money on something, we are doing it.
  • Tasting room and Retail area.  A huge part of all these breweries starting up in Vancouver is the ability to sell your products from your business.  It takes what was once an impossible task, and makes it so much more realistic of an opportunity.  So make sure you design a space that works for your brewery.  For us we wanted something intimate, open to the brewery, and simple.
  • Work with sub trades early in the process.  You don’t have to pick who you are working with, but bouncing plans off them will give you real world answers to questions you have.  It was also help you find savings and efficiencies in your space.
  • Another dilemma on decisions.  You can have things done quickly, you can have things done for your budget, and you can have things done inline with your dreams, but at best you will get 2 of these things, but most of the time you will only get 1 of these things.  What will you pick?
  • Call the room where you mill your grains a “grain cracking room”.  Trust me on this one, it will save you a bunch of headaches at the City
  • Depending on if you are focusing on production or focusing on tasting room/retail sales, your layout may be different.  For us, we are a production brewery first, so the layout and design of the space tried to take this into account as much as possible.  Process workflow, material in and material out, future expansion are all important to us, and are reflected in our space.
  • Keep your cooler close to the tasting room.  Iain has so much experience with this kind of thing, that he is adamant that these 2 things need to be connected.  He talks about the shorter the run of lines, and being able to connect our taps to tanks instead of kegs will save us heaps of time.

What really gets us excited about our space is the connection between the tasting room and the brewery.  When you are sitting in our tasting room, you will quite literally be 10 feet away from the brewhouse.  Want to watch Iain add hops to a brew, just sit back enjoy your beer and watch from your perch.  You will also be able to have a first hand view of the barrel storage area, which we think is a really cool thing.  We also think the art gallery will add a nice connection to the local community, and we hope the growler and retail area will have good process flow so as to not back-up too much.

As I have always said, Iain is really good with this kind of thing, so if you have questions about how to lay your brewery out, feel free to contact us.  At the end of the day, follow your instincts on the way things should be.  Whether you have experience with this kind of thing or not, make sure you follow what you would want as a consumer.  You will deal with enough people along the way that aren’t into craft beer (like contractors, architects, etc) that their opinion will help to balance yours out.  Stay positive and you will find the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The End of One Dream …

How do you thank someone for the ultimate sacrifice?  OK, we aren’t talking giving up a kidney, or sacrificing their own life in the line of fire, but my amazing wife has provided me with the means to start this brewery.  Thats right, starting this brewery is taking sacrifices from more than just myself and my business partner.

Let me give you a little context.  There is nothing my wife has wanted more over the past 5 years than to build a home.  A place to have memories, raise our family and get away from the daily grind that is our life.  We both envisioned the process as an arduous one, but at the end of it, you would have a home that you helped bring together.  It was her dream, and we worked hard to make it happen.  We bought a piece of land about 3 years ago with the dream of building our home …

Let me take a further step back.  About 10 years ago, I started talking to friends and family about the dream of opening a brewery.  Thats right, this has been a 10 year process for me.  In a way I have become the definition of patience (and for anyone that knows me, this in itself is a little hard to believe, but thats another story).  For the first 4 years, it was a lot of business planning, sampling, and more planning.  The dream seemed very far away  About 6 years ago, I started to get more serious and decided to get my real estate licence, allowing me the time to get out of my full time job, and focus a little more time on my brewery, as being a Realtor allows for a healthy dose of flexibility.  I ended up parting ways with my job in 2011, and have been focusing on real estate and starting a brewery for the past 3 years.  As time has moved on, I have kept getting more and more serious.

So back to 3 years ago, when my wife and I purchased a property for developing.  We purchased knowing that my brewery dream may or may not come together (it has been 7 years that I was talking about it with no progress after all), so we just went with it, and hoped things would work out.  As you can imagine, we followed down both paths simultaneously and didn’t try to overthink much of anything.  My wife hoped that things would work out with her dream of building a house, while I hoped that things would work out with my dream of starting a craft brewery.

You can imagine where this headed.  About 6 months ago we subdivided our property and were finally in a position to think about building our dream home on one lot and selling the other.  This was a moment that we waited for about 20 months to happen, so it was a great moment for our family.  It was about the same time that things with our landlord got very serious for the brewery space.  We made an offer on our commercial space for the brewery, and we were finally in a negotiation with a landlord.  You see, we had tried unsuccessfully for 12 months to lease spaces, and never got to the point of actually being in negotiations.  The process with this landlord was going so well that we applied for a development permit (what you need to get to be allowed to produce beer … a key step to say the least) with the City of Vancouver before we had a lease in place.

Not knowing how all this would go, we continued forward with the dream of building on our property.  We continued to meet with an architect, and we moved forward house plans to the point where we were ready to build.  We just needed to sell one of the lots and we were ready to start building on the other lot.  Selling anything in the last 4 months of 2013 was difficult, especially a property like ours.

Fast forward to very early January 2014.  We finally found a dance partner for one of our properties.  This meant we could sell a property and begin building on the other.  However, it was also in January that we knew we were going to sign our lease.  So it meant my 2 worlds were colliding and we had no certainty with which to make a decision.  Essentially, do we move forward with selling only one property and hope that we can find a way to finance building a house on the other property, all the while, financing a significant part of the brewery.  If you have been following my blog, you know that I always think Cash is King, so it would be so tough to do both.

At the end of the day, after a lot of tears, arguing, and selfishness to be completely honest, my wife and I agreed to follow the dream of starting a brewery.  The time and financial burden of building a home, in addition to the time and financial burden of starting a brewery proved too much for us to handle.  So we decided to sell both halves of our property instead of just one half, allowing our family to focus on my dream, and bringing to the end another dream.

Think about it from the standpoint of my wife.  Every time I talk about the brewery, I stay up late or get out of bed early, every time we write a cheque to pay for something, every time some asks how things are coming along, and every time I come home to our rental house, my dream is at the expense of satisfaction in her life.  People ask me about the brewery and I get excited, and when people ask Deanne about building a house, she just sees my dream, at the expense of hers.  When people ask what has been the hardest thing about starting a brewery, it is this.

So, to come full circle, I hope one day to be a brewery owner and build my wife a house of her dreams.  It might be a few years before his happens, but I do plan on returning the favour to her for the sacrifices she has made for me.  I can’t think of a more selfless person, and for this I am forever indebted to her.

My amazing wife has given up her dream of building a home on our property, allowing me to start a craft brewery.  Her sacrifice is the ultimate and one that will allow me to stat a craft brewery.

My amazing wife has given up her dream of building a home on our property, allowing me to start a craft brewery. Her sacrifice is the ultimate and one that will allow me to stat a craft brewery.