For a long time this blog has been a pleasure to write. I enjoyed going over my notes of things, and putting that into the greater community. The response and positive energy I received along the way was amazing and helped encourage me to continue writing, especially at times that I was either tired or busy (which seems like all the time). About 2 months ago, the blog started becoming more of a burden, as the amount of time I spent working at the brewery and on my computer increased weekly. Add in a complete gut of a house my wife and I purchased, and all of a sudden all of my free time evaporated. Poof!
So given the state of my personal and professional life, and for the sanity and health of my family life and longevity in business, I have made the decision to free myself from the burden of having to write this blog. Rather than see a note pop up in my calendar every Sunday night to write a blog post, I have removed the reminder from my calendar, and will let things run their course. For those of you who follow my blog with regularity, feel free to email me with questions you have. Also, I promise to continue taking my notes, and should I not find the time to blog about this process until the day we open, I will catch up afterwards. That way this process will be complete.
So for now, this last blog post may actually be 4 or 5 posts rolled into one, as I update all the different aspects of starting a craft brewery that happen about 2 months out from opening.
Brewhouse: Ideally, you will have your brewhouse arrive about 60 days prior to opening, Definitely make sure you put any coatings on your floor. Also make sure you have your installation procedure decided well in advance. I am sure by this point you know what you are doing, but it had to be said.
Tank Farm: Big or small, your tank farm should also be in about 60 days prior to opening, most ideally just before or just after your brewhouse goes in. Be sure to have your Glycol system scheduled for installation, which needs to be done before you can move your tanks into position. Also plan for your unloading of tanks for the truck and installation into position. This can be a really finicky process that needs an experienced touch.
Kegs: You ideally would get these delivered with about 30 days to go until opening. Getting them delivered too soon (like we did) means you lose valuable real estate in your brewery that could be used for some other things. More on use of real estate later. At the end of the day, get the kegs early, but not too early.
Electrical: If you are getting major upgrades as we are, make sure you the majority of the work done as soon as possible. Don’t use an electrician who doesn’t commit to getting things completed by certain dates. More important than saving a few thousand is someone who works with your schedule, and is always ahead of the game.
Mechanical: I could literally write the same thing again for this heading that I did for electrical. Make sure the work gets completed when there is the space and option of doing it. Never wait for stuff to get done.
Marketing: Holy crap, the marketing becomes a beast by this point in time. The decisions you make mean the brand you are creating is formally taking shape. The big important decisions are long complete, but there are a million and one details. And the saying goes that the devil is in the details. Some of the important balls in the air right now are: Website, content for website, business cards, merchandise, increasing social media presence, glasses, sell sheets, coasters, keg labels, etc. I would say marketing at this point will likely be taking you about 15 hours per week if you are doing anything similar to us.
Tasting Room: This is one of the last things to get finished, as the production equipment needs to prioritized, but certainly by now the tasting room is well on its way to completion. You are definitely making the finer decisions now on this. Things like designing tables, finishing of walls, merchandise area, etc are all needing decisions to keep things moving forward. We are about to start on construction of a bar, and I can tell you that there are a lot of factors that go into putting this together, and I promise to one day blog about it.
Accounting: By now, I hope you have figured out a system for managing your books. It is easily something that gets left, and before you know it, your GST reporting is due, and instead of a few hours work, you have 3 days worth of book keeping to catch up on. Dave at Powell Street Brewing gave me the recommendation early to do your accounting every 2 weeks, and while I haven’t yet gotten to that frequency, I can see why he recommends it.
Organizing Trades: We are sooooo thankful we have a general contractor. Trying to organize and manage the schedule is a full time job, and one that we couldn’t have imagined not having the support of Graham Disher and his fine team. They have helped us immeasurably every step along the way, and we are firm believers that paying someone to help is the best move we made. Organizing trades and their schedule is so important as you come down to this point, as when things get done (or not) has a cascade on all the other things that have to happen after. Any delays means a delay to every subsequent job.
Cold Room: After going through the building of a cold room, we are really happy we did this, but man, we think getting a prefab cooler would be a lot better choice next time. I know we will get exactly what we want and need, but the process of building a cooler is an expensive one, that takes a lot of time, and draws people away from other tasks they could be completing. Depending on your space and the size of a cooler you need, strongly consider a pre-fab.
Cash Flow: Hopefully you are meeting your budget, but most likely you are not. This is where you need to make a decision if you have investors. Do you take a bigger loan to cover your shortfall or do you raise more money. In about another month we are going to be pressed with this decision, as we will be out of money. Managing your cash flow until you get open is the most important part of this process and one that you need to keep on top of constantly.
Government Stuff: Make sure you keep on top of all the interactions you have with government. You can easily drop the ball on this one, and the resulting error could be catastrophic to your business. In British Columbia the government has a website that itemizes all the things you need to do and I suggest you refer to this consistently.
Hiring of staff: About 50 days out you need to figure out your staffing situation, and start getting ready to hire people. For us that means people in the brewery and also in our tasting room. We have been dragging our heels on this one, so do as I say and not as I do.
Other General stuff of note:
Use of Real Estate: During the process of building a brewery, as you reach about 2 months out, your space is a mess. There are a hundred things inside your brewery that are at various states of completion, which means there is a lot of stuff sitting in different areas. For us, even though we are in 9,000 square feet, we are running out of room to put stuff. We have kegs, barrels, packaging, tanks, wood, plywood, insulation, drywall, tools, work stations, etc taking up space all over. My advice would be to work on being organized as best you can from day 1. Don’t let the mess and organization become an issue, as it can overwhelm you.
Manage your Expectations: I am someone who was raised by a very European father, who was adamant that we were never late for things. While I am not 100% on time, I do think that making a scheduled deadline is important. When it comes to something as complex as starting a brewery, just plan for 7 months of building if your size is 6,000 square feet or smaller. And if you are over 6,000 square feet like us, plan for 8-9 months of building. I know you will always be able to point to examples that go against this timeline, but do so at your own peril. Just expect things to go wrong and problems to come up that add time.
Manage your sleep and stress: For me, a lack of sleep goes hand in hand with being more prone to stress. To give you an idea, right now I am working about 75 hours a week. I easily work 12 hours per day 6 days per week, and I do try and take a 1/2 day off on the 7th day of the week. The 2 things that I hate to lose is my sleep and my exercise. If I do, I get more stressed, grumpy and unhappy. So for me, I need to continue to exercise (a lot less intensely with all the physical work at the brewery) and get my 6.5 hours of sleep a night. Any less than that, and I start to burnout.
Celebrate: If you don’t stop once and while to celebrate the process, you will miss out on the process of following your dreams. We are all following our dreams when you start a brewery, and if you don’t take a moment to recognize this, then the process will be less rewarding.
Decisions are now to save time or save money: The process of making decisions has gone from really taking your time and agonizing over the details, to one that is marked by a lack of research and a plethora of going with your gut. We are still trying to save money as we always have, but now there is a healthy dose of getting decisions made. In fact, I would say the first question we usually ask is which option is the quickest?
Stay connected with your partner(s): It is really easy to divide out a job and then not keep in good enough contact with your partner. We are all guilty of this, but make sure you take time every day to speak with anyone that needs to be part of a decision. It also helps to have a master sheet schedule, as I have talked about before, so you can itemize the decisions you need to make, who is doing it, and when the drop-dead date is.
Hopefully, with all this stuff going on you can understand why I am going to blog if and only if I have time over the next 50 days. My to do list is insane, and I can’t keep up with all the items that need decisions. I hope you understand! As such, I am going to take off and get some of these things done. Until next time …. and always email me with any questions.