Tag Archives: City of Vancouver

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.

 

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Success … Building Permit has been Granted!

For the past week I have had my head down, working on our accounting and driving ahead a bunch of projects that are in need to time and attention.  So this blog has been something that I keep thinking about, but couldn’t find the time or the energy to put towards it.  While we were busy with our heads down, we received some great news:  Our building permit was approved and we are good to start trucking ahead with construction.

This sounds great on paper, only we thought the process of getting a permit would take a little longer, so we don’t have all our sub-trades in place and need to refine a few more of our plans.  Given this, we hope that construction will begin on April 1st, so that we can be open sometime in very late summer or very early fall.

My advice to people who are going through the process of starting a brewery, or any other business for that matter is this:  Don’t take your foot off the gas pedal.  When you lose focus and when you lose the drive to push things ahead, small delays can have a cascade effect on the process.  For example, our dithering on a few specifics around the brewery and tasting room, which didn’t seem like huge delays at the time, effected a bunch of other items.  It delayed our architects in making the changes, it delayed our contractor in getting quotes, and it delayed next steps in the process.  It ended up that a couple days delay in one decision ended up delaying the process by 2 weeks.  Arghh!

To be honest, I thought I would feel more happy about getting our building permit, and while this does put a smile on my face it doesn’t make me jump up and down like getting our development permit did.  I guess the difference is that we knew we were going to get the building permit, it was just a matter of when.  I also think that we just have so much work to do, its hard to take a breath to give each other a high five.

Anyhow, we will keep you up to speed on some of the next steps with our brewery in the coming weeks ahead.  Lots of activity and hopefully we can drive this project ahead to start operations sooner rather than later.

The Odds and Ends of this Process

One thing that takes a lot of time, especially of late, is the final layout and design of the space.  It is quite easy to get approximate locations of the brewhouse, walls, grain room, bathrooms, etc., but it is another thing to lock in the exact location.  This goes against what I ever thought would happen, and makes you choose between saving time, saving money, but only getting one of these at once.

Are you as confused as me?  Maybe the words are not flowing from my brain to the keyboard this early in the morning, but the final location and final detail of things is taking a lot of time.  Why are these things important?  Well, without knowing how long of runs you need for mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, your general contractor and others, you can’t really get accurate quotes on work needed.  If you can’t get an accurate quote, when it comes time for an electrician to do the work, and they need to do something that is not in the original package, there is an up charge for this.  In other words, if the electrician needs to run power to 10 extra lights that were not in the plan, they charge extra.  It is also the time that they can “bend you over the table so to speak.”

So in trying to button down all the details of what to put where, it makes life really difficult for the individual(s) putting together the final plans.  For us that means our architect, our brewhouse designer, and our contractor are all working in tandem, with emails and phone calls going back in forth at the rate of about 10 per day, with weekly meetings, and with miscommunication at every step of the way.  It is very difficult to orchestrate, as often people are not focused on our project alone, meaning sometimes it is not convenient for others to work on our project.  There are also vision issues, time issues, communication issues, and issues with our issues.

One of the biggest issues you cross when it comes to the odds and ends, is saving money versus saving time.  At the end of the day, we try to save both at every step along the way, but it has proven impossible.  If you want something done quickly, you are going to pay more as you narrow the window of options you have.  On the flip side, if you want things done economically, often the time needed to save the money is huge.  For our project this means trying to balance out these 2 things, so that we can save a little time, but also a little money.  Let me give you an example.

Should you build a cooler yourself or have one prefabricated and installed by someone else?  There is something about a cooler that makes it very expensive to pay a company to design and install.  It is not like the engineering is difficult, the materials are relatively inexpensive, and the amount of time needed to put it together is nothing exorbitant.  So when you get a quote from a company that specializes in putting this into your brewery, the cost blows your mind.  The cooler can literally cost $40,000 to supply.  WTF.  So this naturally leads us to look at designing and building our own cooler.  Quickly you realize that you can build the same thing, and save yourself about $20,000 which is huge in the grand scheme of things.  The challenge with this route is the time involved.  The time needed to procure the pieces, put together design specs, meet code, coordinate trades, etc, etc.  What we are now realizing that building our own cooler will save us money, but it will suck a lot of time from spending it elsewhere.

When you have time sucked away from certain things that need it, then you are delaying the process for other things moving forward.  So in other words, there is always a delicate balance between time spent on a project, and time lost on another project.  There is also a balance between money saved and time saved.

Let this be a lesson to other future brewery owners, the balance of these things is a hard thing to do, and you will spend a lot of time heading down a path, and then after a certain amount of time, backtracking and going down the other path, only to realize that you should have stayed down the first path.  The key is to always be aware which path is the best to travel down, and to recognize when you are running into a brick wall ….. because as we have learned, there is never a brick wall to show you are on the wrong path, only a few hurdles, making recognition of this even harder.

My key learning is this:  Sometimes getting overcharged is alright, so long as you spend the time you save elsewhere to move another aspect of the brewery forward, or save money.  There are other times an owner needs to make a greater effort to save money, at the expense of time, as the cost savings outweigh the time spent.  Choose wisely!

The Biggest day in this Process – Lease Signing Day

It looks like the day might finally be upon us.  This is the day that seems like it should be the first step in the process, but realistically is more like the 500,000th of 1,000,000 steps in starting a brewery.  I have thought about this day for years.  It’s like I need to pinch myself to make sure this isn’t a dream.  We have signed subject removal for leasing our space.  After a 12 month courtship, and months of negotiating, feeling elated, feeling depressed, and most importantly uncertainty, we have done it.

I know what you are thinking:  Whats the big deal?  You found a place to brew your beer.  Thousands of other breweries across North America have found a suitable place to brew their beer, what makes your accomplishment any different?  When I think about it that way, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.  But when you consider that we live in Vancouver, where land and warehouses are at a premium, it feels like a huge accomplishment.

I would say the key learnings from this process would be as follows:

  1. Don’t even consider buying a space, unless you are rich.  And that begs the question, if you are rich, why are you starting a brewery?
  2. Dilemna:  You can only have a one of the following:  A good landlord, a good location, a good space.  Which will you choose?
  3. Get ready for a personal guarantee.  Unless you have a brewery already, and if so why the heck are you reading this blog, get ready to lay whatever personal wealth you have on the line with your landlord.
  4. Expect to spend a lot of money fixing this space up.  Our bill is going to be huge, because we have a larger space, but even for small spaces, expect to spend $300,000 minimum.
  5. Use a good commercial realtor, who works exclusively in an area.  Don’t use a friend or family member who doesn’t know a lot about what they are doing.  We used Matt Smith from Colliers, and were very happy with our choice
  6. If you are ordering new equipment, don’t order any until you get your space secured.  I’ve heard too many horror stories to go down that road.
  7. Expect the unexpected.  There will be a fundamental problem with your space that you didn’t anticipate, so budget some contingency for your build out.
  8. Engage with architects, engineers and other professionals from the get-go.  They will help you understand what is needed and what is to come.
  9. Don’t lock yourself into a size of brewery, type of brewery or anything else until you find your space.  We totally changed our strategy based on the space we found.  Committing to a space is important to do before you commit to a type of brewery you are creating.
  10. Last and most importantly, PRAY.  Thats right, because when you find a space that seems really good, I can guarantee that there will be someone else who also finds the space really good, brewery or otherwise.  There is a lack of good space, and expect landlords hold all the power to pick who they work with.

So now, the process of starting a brewery truly begins.  It is hard to believe that from the time I started to write a business plan to this point in my life has been 5 years.  So patience, if not a inherent characteristic you have, will definitely be something that you develop.  If you don’t, I would say that your journey into the world of starting a brewery might be a short one.

Today will be my last shave, and I can start officially telling people that we have a space to brew our beer.  Many thanks to all those people who helped encourage and support us in getting to this point.  Without all that you have given to this process, I am afraid I wouldn’t have been able to do it.

Thanks for the Support

Not much to say here, but thanks for the support and words of encouragement I have received from everyone who visits my blog.  I want everyone to know that I am touched by the kind words you have passed along, and the nice things you have to say about what I am doing.  It motivates me at times like this (12:45am Wednesday morning) to write my blog and take the time to connect with others.

When I started out in this process, I found there was a lot of information online, but a lack of details on what to do and how to get it done.  There were a few other blogs, but nothing itemizing the process of inception to brewery opening.  So it was my idea to add to the information out there in small way.  To see the positive feedback and read the messages that people are sending me has truly blown me away.

So thank you to everyone that visits this blog. I hope I can continue writing posts and inspiring others, as I was inspired by others who started on the path to realizing their dreams before getting ‘off the couch’ myself.  There is a quote that I love, and it goes like this.  “A dream doesn’t come reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”  Colin Powell (I think).  This is more true than you can ever realize.  I would probably add to this a little luck and a lot of sleepless nights.

As always, if you have any questions, or if there is anything you would ever like me to discuss, please contact me and I will blog about it when I can find the time.

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.