Tag Archives: Building Upgrades

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.

 

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.

Electrical Follow-up … Even more “Shocking”

When you sit at home thinking of what it would be like to open a craft brewery, you don’t think about stuff like this.

If you read my last post on the electrical issues with our space, you would know that our electrical bill went from an anticipated $30,000 for a simple upgrade the transformer on the power pole, to almost $120,000 for a pad mounted transformer.  It turns out we can’t put a pad mounted transformer in the parking lot, as our landlord needs to keep these spaces for tenants in our building and other buildings he owns in the area.  In fact, he has already received a variance from the City of Vancouver for the number of parking spaces he must to have, and anything that takes away from this number is not permitted.

This results in messing this situation up even more, just when I didn’t think it was possible for this process to go off the rails any further.  Now instead of a $120,000 bill, which believe it or not we think was actually doable, we are now looking at a substation.  Holy crap, I think building an actual Submarine station would cost less than this thing.  Initial estimates for a sub station in our building are about $250,000.

Unless we can find a economical solution to this problem, there is no question about it, we are done with this space.  When you consider that we spent about 8 months on this space, hundreds of hours of time and effort laying out the space, getting quotes, planning equipment, designing tasting room, etc. it seems almost surreal that this is happening.  It doesn’t end there.  Financially, we spent over $30,000 in fees, permits, lawyers, engineers, accountants, architects and other misc items.  When you add all this together, it’s really painful to have reached this conclusion after so much.  But at the end of the day, it is better to walk away without $30,000 than it is to walk away with a business that failed to get off the ground.

We have our last ditch effort to find a solution on Wednesday of this week.  I hope that the people we have relied on so much throughout this process are able to come up with a creative idea that works for everyone involved.  One thing is for sure, I won’t be getting much sleep tonight.

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.