Tag Archives: Canada

General Ramblings

A lot of the things we have been planning for sometime now are taking shape.  The big decisions we had to make early on have all been made, and now we are left to make them all fit within the scope of this project, which is changing a daily basis.  As such, things like tap location, size of custom cabinetry, location of bar sinks, and hundreds of other little decisions need to be looked at.

We have made many errors both big and small along the way, as making so many decisions is bound to result in a bad decision or 2 ….. or 20!  So here are the mistakes we have made that come to the top of my mind, and things you should be mindful of not doing.

  1. Make sure you agree to delivery dates for equipment and services provided to your brewery.  If you don’t have specified drop-dead dates, you can’t hold people to a timeframe in getting things done.  For example, if your website needs to be created by June 1st, but you don’t have this in your contact with your web designer, then you are left with no recourse should things take longer.
  2. The marathon of this is truly day in and day out a grind.  I love what I am doing, and it is a passion and dream all rolled into one, but it is still a grind.  The first 6 months seem to go by quickly, and your energy reserves are used, the next 6 months you have moments of highs and lows, and then the next 6 months hit.  I would say this is where we are.  We don’t celebrate our accomplishments enough, we are knee deep in financial duress, and we are about 2-3 months away from making any money.  Take 1 day off a week, as it will do your mind good.
  3. Its better to have stuff arrive when you need it, not before or after.  This is virtually impossible, but getting a big piece of equipment early is in a way just as bad as getting it early.  Get your stuff delivered when you need it, and shade a little to the earlier side of things.
  4. There is an endless amount of forms you need to fill out for the Government, so always keep on top of this.  I try to spend a couple hours a week reviewing our progress and making sure we are doing all that we can to keep these things moving forward.
  5. Schedule meetings wit your partner.  I can’t tell you how many times my partner and I try to meet about something and it gets interrupted or cut short because of something else.  We are realizing it might be best to have meetings elsewhere that are important.  Planning the business is more important than working in the business
  6. Finding time to do social media is the hardest thing some days.  When you are working on building a brewery, your free time evaporates and days just cruise by.  Always find time to connect with people on social media.  For some that is doing it as the day goes on, and for me that means doing it twice per day.  We have learned so much from others, and connected with so many great people, it would be a shame not to have done this.
  7. Include your landlord in decisions that effect the building.  If you have an amazing landlord like we do, they will want to be a part of things, so it is important to let them have some say.  After all, it is their building and your business is their business.
  8. Always have a plan B ready for action, especially when it comes to your financials and marketing.  Getting stuck with one idea, or one way of doing things is a real challenge in any aspect of this process.  It evolves so much, that it is much better to wave in the wind like a flag and go with the flow.
  9. You will need money, lots of money, and you will likely need more as the process goes on.  If you think you are different than everyone else who has started a business, or undertaken a massive renovation, then do so at your own peril.  We thought we would be good after 4 or 5 revisions to our budget, only to have the wrench of a delay resulting in us needing more money.  My advice would be to research as much as possible, and leave a bucket of money with about 15% of your overall budget to get to day 1 so that you can mitigate these risks.
  10. Marketing needs to represent who you are.  Since we are a team of 2, it is harder to get this right, as we are both very different in what we like.  Also, we wanted something other than what represented who we were for some time.  Once we decided to go with our gut, we found a path to happiness and cool branding, representative of our beliefs and opinions.
  11. If you are having a tasting room like us, the front of the house is a big enigma that is full of unknowns and expensive items.  Walk carefully through this minefield.  We messed up tap locations, counter top height, layout, approval process, etc.  A lot can go wrong so make sure you think this through.
  12. Don’t forget about these electronic items/systems:  POS ($5,000) AV ($2,500) Security system ($1,500) and CCTV ($4,000).  They add up to a lot, but we couldn’t imagine not getting these things right.  Also, try to include these items on your electrical contractors scope of work early on, as it will save you $$$.
  13. Spend too much money on non-critical things.  Don’t spend a lot of money on a forklift, but get a used one.  Don’t pay any of your carpenters to clean up at $55 per hour, do it yourself. Don’t get a bin until you are ready for it, do a couple dump runs on your own.  You get the idea.

I am sure throughout today, I will make 10 decisions with my partner, 7 of which we get right, 1 we are not so sure about and 2 that are wrong … only we won’t know it until some later point.  The point is sometimes you need take your time and make the right decision, and others you need to make any decision, just make one immediately to keep things moving forward.  The key is to think about when key decisions need to be made, and factor that into your approach.  If a decision doesn’t need to made, take a day to sleep on it.

I am sure I would be able to add about 10 more things to this list if I had the time or more mental horsepower right now.  Hopefully you can add more to this list via the comments below. Thanks for reading and until my next entry.

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60 Days Out

Without a doubt, things get busier as you get closer to opening your brewery.  For us, there is so much going on right now at the brewery, it is hard to keep track of sometimes.  It is also a point that we are beginning to notice parts of the job getting significantly completed, and others that seemed so far off a few months ago, getting started.

One thing I know for sure, the less you have to complete and build in your space, the faster this project goes.  Since we have taken possession of our space early in the year, Yellow Dog has gone from building to finished, Moody Ales will go from start to finish before us, and a host of other breweries literally leapfrogged us during the past 6 months.  It is both an indication of the complexity of our project, but also the challenges we have faced and will continue to face with our space.

At 60 days from opening, there is a lot going on and as I said earlier, keeping on top of all that stuff can be a lot of work.  If you stop for a second and look down, you are going to miss what is coming at you.  Little things like Tap Handles, coasters, label deadlines, getting UPC codes, positioning of electrical outlets, timing of deliveries, and hiring of staff, can all creep up on you if you don’t think ahead and plan for the decisions you need to make.

One of the bigger issues we have right now is that there is so much going on in the brewery, its hard to schedule everyone at the right times.  We have electricians working overhead, sprinkler installation people, carpenters, mechanical contractors, floor coating technicians, welders, and our team of people helping where we can.  This means that with everyones tools, equipment and supplies, there is not a lot of room to work.  I would suggest that when you build your brewery, you encourage people to get their work done as quickly as possible and as early as possible.  The longer people wait to get stuff done, the more it makes your brewery busy and jam-packed.

Some of the big decisions we have to make are:

  • What beers are we going to launch with in the tasting room
  • Beer Names
  • Tap Handles
  • Order Chairs for tasting room
  • Beer Prices
  • Hiring of Staff
  • Hiring of General Manager for the front of the house
  • Delivery truck
  • Ordering of bottle caps
  • Ordering of 1st piece of new capital equipment
  • A million and one things in the brewery
  • Colours

Just writing this list gives me a strong desire to get working and stop blogging.  As such, I will carry on and leave this post here.  I could write more, so much more, but time would be better spent elsewhere.

Hammering out the Electrical Details … its sometimes a 4 letter word!

Actual Conversation that took place at 9am Friday morning:

Matt: What about the following Electrical items:

8.1c-3, 4.32b-1, 8.0a-9

Iain: Where is that in the plans?

Matt: I can’t find them, do they even exist?

Iain: Here they are. A 5 horse power pump 3 phase 220 volt and 2 outlets

Matt: Those outlets and pump aren’t in my plans

Iain:  They are in my plans, but they are in the wrong spot

Matt: Where is the number for the engineer, I need to call him.

Get used to hearing these kinds of things when it comes to putting electrical infrastructure into your building. The work requires continuous attention to detail, and meetings between your electrician, electrical engineer, general contractor and the end-users (us)! There are lots of false starts and errors, so prepare mentally for this. Getting as much correct as you can early in the process will mean fewer change orders, which ends up saving you a lot of cash.

One of the biggest challenges we have had around the electrical work is the process. It is an inexact science and one that is full of frustration and teeth grinding. The process kind of goes like this:

  1. Pick your equipment and finalize this before anything else can start.
  2. Determine the power needs of that equipment.
  3. This is a chicken or egg thing. On much equipment, you can choose what kind of power it will take, which means you need to know what kind of power you have available. For much of your equipment you can have it made to the power you want to provide.
  4. Convey this information to the architect and electrical engineer who produce drawings for your electrician.
  5. Determining the exact location of the equipment on the floor plan. You need to have this buttoned down, so that all the information can go back up the line to everyone that needs it
  6. Make sure that all this stuff meshes with the latest version of your layout. Sometimes you electrician is working with non-current plans, which means that different tables and arrangements will result in different locations for power needs
  7. Making sure that the workers who are going to do the work know what is going on.
  8. Check back with everyone to make sure that all is ok.

Clearly, this is an inexact process. It is one that seems easy at first, but when you really look at it during the process, it is really hard. Trying to coordinate all of this is so difficult. We have had meetings where people literally leave steaming mad because they have been given the wrong information, or their workers haven’t followed the changes … there is a lot of coordinate.  Moreover, if you get anything wrong in that process you literally need to spend an hour push up and down the line to everyone else, explaining what happened and what the new plan is.

It is also important to get equipment using 600V where possible. In short, using a higher voltage makes electric motors more efficient, as there is less current needed. We are lucky in the sense that we have the power available to do this, after we are spending a bunch of money to upgrade the service from the street.

There is always going to be the stuff that people have overlooked. For instance our electrical engineer missed a couple pumps in our layout, so it was never discussed again until we found this out. When this happens, everyone scrambles to find these on the plans, and when you don’t you start to question what has happened and what you can do.

To help make this process easier, you should always try and work with professionals and engineers who are supreme communicators. You will need to be in constant contact to ensure that everyone is on the same page and everyone within their teams are also on the same page. It also helps that the electricians who are doing the work are committed to the job. If they can’t have someone at the brewery all day 4 days a week, you should look elsewhere.

Don’t forget to plan for power outages, and share the plan for renovations with everyone and every sub-trade. People need to know when power is going to be cut, when deliveries are being made and when floors are being coated. If you don’t coordinate this information, others will waste time and become increasingly frustrated with your job, potentially leading to bad outcomes down the road.

It becomes so apparent through this process that things like the electrical upgrade, floor issues, seismic needs, and sprinkler additions/installation are huge costs and enormous burdens to have to deal with. It is one of the reasons I have always told people who are interested in starting a brewery to make sure you find a space that has some of these things done. You may not be lucky enough to find one with everything completed, but the more of these major items completed, the quicker and cheaper your retrofit will be.

 

 

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.

Bottle vs Can for a Craft Brewery

One thing we have long struggled with is the type of packaging we are going to put our finished product in.  Speaking with other craft breweries, we are not alone in the uncertainty we face in making this decision.  I have summarized the pros and cons of each decision, and I hope at the end of the post, you can give me some feedback on what is the best in your mind.  Starting your own brewery is a great thing, but it is important to have a firm sense of what you want, and merge that with the financial and marketplace dynamics you face.  In other words, what you started out wanting may not be what you end up with.

Really there are 2 choices that you can put beer into.  Either cans or bottles.  Before I dissect each of the options, here are some general comments.  I had long thought that cans were the clear environmental choice, but a few articles haver pointed me back in the direction of uncertainty.  Click here to read one article.  So with no clear winner on the environmental side, what about taste.  I hear anecdotally that people can taste the plastic in cans.  Does this mean they don’t pour the beer out of cans into a glass (yikes).  Also there is the image.  Is the wider market really ready for high quality craft beer in cans?  I know Steamworks and Central City have their beer in cans, and by all accounts do very well, but could you imagine a much smaller player, like 33 Acres or Bridge Brewing putting their beer in cans?  Would it make a difference at all to your perception of them.

Cans:   Cans are a good option for a brewery for a variety of reasons, but there are some downsides to them, which I have tried tried to summarize below.  Essentially, there are 2 options for can sizes 355ml or 500ml.  The smaller can is more North American while the larger can has a much more European feel to it.

  1. More transportable and lighter than bottles
  2. Beer keeps better in cans than bottles
  3. Per unit cost is less expensive than bottles
  4. About 66% of all beer sold in BC is sold in cans
  5. Government liquor stores want new listings in cans
  6. Canning lines are more expensive than bottling lines and notoriously more finicky.  We have quotes for a canning line at $90,000, and the price can go sky high from there
  7. Minimum orders for cans are about $30,000
  8. You need to figure out what beer you are going to sell and then hope the market likes it, as production time for cans is much longer
  9. Image of someone drinking from a can doesn’t always conjure up quality craft beer
  10. Lead time for can orders is much longer than a bottle label order
  11. A couple different sizes of cans which completely change the look and feel of the marketing

Bottles:  On the other hand, bottles are a great option for a new brewery, as the 650ml bottle is the standard size for craft beer, and is well established in the BC marketplace.  Not unlike cans, there are both pros and cons to packaging beer in bottles.

  1. About 33% of all beer sold in BC is sold in bottles
  2. A beer bottle doesn’t put off any odd tastes, whether perceived or not
  3. A beer label allows for more colours and detailed artwork
  4. The amount of time needed for artwork and printing is much shorter than producing cans
  5. Bottling lines are less expensive than canning lines, and you can buy change-over parts to switch between bottle sizes
  6. We have quotes for bottling lines at about $60,000 and the price can go way up from there
  7. There is a much wider variety of bottles available to put beer into (all are in ml):  330, 341, 350, 500, 650, 750, 1000
  8. Government liquor stores are trying to get out of bottles, so a listing with BCLS is much harder to obtain
  9. In my opinion, a bottle of beer put out a different image than a can of beer

So you can see how we are conflicted on the decision that we are going to make.  We have flip-flopped back and forth from cans to bottles and we have really wrestled with the decision.  What would you do?  What would you want us to do?  The trouble we now have is that we can no longer waffle on this decision.  We need to place our order so that we can get our equipment in time for the launch of our brewery.

So vote here, and let me know what you think.  I would love to hear from you as well.

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.