Tag Archives: clark drive

6 Months after opening – part 1

I just visited my blog again for the first time in about 6 months, and I was shocked to see that people are still visiting it, looking for information on starting a brewery.  I felt a little inspired so thought I would jot down a bunch of things that come to mind regarding running a brewery.  In no particular order, it would be the following:

  • Man you will be tired:  Unless you are flush with cash and you can afford to have extra staff around, you will be working like a dog.  Minimum 60 hour weeks, week-in and week-out.  Get ready for this, or if you are adverse to this kind of thing, get ready to hire additional staff to make life easy.
  • Cash flow:  People look at our brewery and see that we are doing well, and we are.  People love our beer, we have great tasting room staff, we love what we do, and craft beer in Vancouver and BC is on such a huge upswing.  However, cash flow is an ongoing challenge and something that needs constant attention.  The bigger you grow, the more of a buffer you need for working capital.  So know this:  The cash flow needs of your business will get worse over the first 6 months and not better.
  • Managing people:  I don’t say this in terms that it is an issue or a problem, just something that you need to be aware of.  When you are building your brewery, you manage yourself and a team of people that sooner or later will leave and move onto something else.  However, when you hire staff there is so much more to the relationship than a do this do that approach.  You must deal with peoples feelings, strive to make the staff get happiness from doing what they do, and strike a delicate balance between being the good cop and the bad cop.  There are many other small components as well, and to be honest there will be days you suck at being a boss and others that will come easily.  For me, I need to work on this part of my skill-set continuously.
  • Dealing with government:  Don’t know what else I can say here.  Just get ready for inspections, forms to fill out, paperwork, bureaucracy, bitting your bottom lip, and general frustration in this bucket.
  • Customer is always right:  We get lots of feedback from people on all sorts of things.  Mostly though, people who pass along feedback have found something they don’t like or think could be improved.  There are 2 ways to take this information:  Defensively or as constructive feedback.  As much as we may disagree with what people say and how they approach us, there is always value in taking this information and using it to make your business better.  You may not always do what a customer wants you to do, but you can always take a little from the conversation.  Moreover, if you don’t listen to your customers and they take their hard earned money elsewhere, you will have nothing.
  • Did I tell you this process is tiring:  Can’t overstate this enough.  Get your ass in shape, prepare people around you for the workload and find your release so you can stay sane.  For me its exercise … what about for you?
  • Not enough time in a day/week/month to get everything done:  You will need to prioritize on a daily basis as there is never enough time to get everything done.  The fulcrum is never in balance, just make sure you are always checking on where it should be.
  • Know when to hire and add staff:  Hand in hand with the point above, before you burn out, hire someone to help.  Each person has a different threshold for workload, stress and the ability to get things done.  So don’t judge a partner or employee for what they are or aren’t doing.  Just focus on getting your work complete, and help others where you can.  When the burden of your to-do list becomes too much, spend some money and hire someone.
  • Stick to your plan but detour when necessary:  This is a tough one, but certainly one that should not be lost.  There are times when you should stick to your plan and resist going off course, and there are others where you should do the opposite.  How you know which way to go?  For me, taking an extra day to make a decision is often one of the best ways to find my path.
  • More to come … I actually enjoyed writing these points.  Maybe I will start finding time on a weekly basis to fill this sheet in.

The Cooler

Busy doesn’t even begin to describe our life right now.  We are so busy trying to get things organized with regards to all aspects of this brewery, it is literally starting to make us crazy.  We are dealing with it the best we can, but it seems we are taking less and less time to make constantly more important decisions.  There is just no time to think, it is more of a reactionary process now.  One of these things we have been reacting to over the past few months is the cooler.

Early on in the process of building a brewery, you will need to make some decisions around the cooler.  Most likely, the first will be where the heck to put the thing.  There is a bunch of factors in making that decision, like if you will have a tasting room, where are your shipping docks, how high are your ceilings all over the warehouse, how much space do you have, etc.  Generally speaking, if you are going for a model that has a tasting room, and you are planning for some production, make sure you put your cooler very near the tasting room, and make it big enough for whatever your beer sales are at year 3.

After you pick out the location, things start becoming more and more detailed in your decisions.  A big one is whether you want to have your cooler pre-fabricated or built on site.  A pre-fab cooler is a quicker option, but you may not get exactly what you want.  Also, depending on the size of the cooler, you may need to build a box around it to support it.  There are some coolers that are not meant to support any weight above them.  If you build your own, there are engineering costs, and the time and effort of putting the things together.  The bigger you build it, the more the costs for everything like labour, materials and professionals.

We also did a few extra things in our cooler that has made it more expensive, but will enable us to have a more functional cooler, and one that works better with our situation.

  • We insulated the ground beneath our concrete to R20.  This was an extra few thousand dollars to do this in extra digging, dirt removal, labour and materials, but we hope the energy savings will benefit us moving forward.  Cool air falls after all, so we thought best to insulate the floors.
  • Since we poured new floors underneath the cooler, we put in drainage.  I think Iain would say that drainage is a must in a cooler, but it can be a time consuming and difficult process.  We just decided to put all new concrete down, so we didn’t have to worry about these things …. we just did it.
  • And since we put in new floors we also put a slope on the concrete so water would run to the drains.
  • Make sure you put footings all around the cooler for the walls to sit on.  Since the cooler will be wet and damp, you should avoid having the walls touch the ground.
  • We made our cooler structural, so that we could store boxes, pallets and other stuff up top of it.
  • Don’t use drywall on the inside of your cooler … even the stuff that is rated to handle wet situations.  You can talk to Dave Varga about that one, as he told us at 33 acres they want to rip it all out.  Use marine grade plywood.
  • If you have any breaks in your moisture barrier, you will moisture in your cooler.  So plug these holes.
  • Use a big door for your cooler, and have a second man door.  The bigger your door, the easier it is for a forklift or pump truck to move pallets in and out of the space.  You want to try and avoid turning on the inside of your cooler with the forklift.  Our cooler is about 25 feet wide, and our door is about 18 feet wide or so.
  • Use a little man door to walk in and out of to avoid needing to open the big door to get something little.
  • We incorporated a cooler very close to our tasting room, so that we could have really short runs for the beer we will have on tap.  Again, Iain could tell you exactly why we did this, but all I know is that it will save us a lot of headaches in the future.
  • We will have jacketed tanks, so this means they will not be inside the cooler.  This frees up a lot of space and will allow us to store finished product in a cool place, ensuring it lasts longer and stays as fresh as possible.  This goes back to making sure your cooler is big enough.
  • Retail doors are important.  One thing we like about Bomber Brewing is that their cooler is also a place to put packaged product.  So you can grab a 12 pack of cans directly from cooler doors and purchase them on site.  This means you don’t need to get a separate cooler to do this, saving energy and costs.
  • We are placing 4 double stacked 15 hectolitre tanks in the cooler for holding our beer.  This will mean we don’t have to change loads of kegs for our most popular beers.  We have been told how much of a challenge this is, as tanks of your most popular beers can run dry 3 or 4 times a day.

All of the decisions around this cooler are pretty much made, so it is just a matter of implementing what we have planned.  The last decision we have to make is whether to use spray foam insulation versus standard insulation.  There are major differences, not the least of which is price and ease of install.  Like every other decision we have made, I am sure the answer will come to us in time …. and hopefully soon.

That is about all I can think of when it comes to our cooler.  For us, we definitely underestimated the spend on an engineer for this, as there is much to figure out when you are building walls that are 14 feet high, and span a 25 foot length.  There are lots of plates and reinforcements you need to install so that this thing will stand through worst case scenarios.

Have a few questions that I am not thinking of???  Send them along and I can surely help you out.

 

Quick Update on Things …

I think back to the days when we were first getting started with the brewery, and I can’t help but think how much time I had to do things.  It didn’t seem like I had a lot of free time, but in reality I did.  What I really had was the ability to get on top of things, which I have completely lost now. Let me try to explain.

When you first start writing your plan, you have time to dream, think about your beers, your brand, name, etc.  It is a natural part of things, and something that if we didn’t do, we wouldn’t be doing this.  As time moves on, you tend to get to more of the meat of the operation, and you need to start figuring out some details.  As time progresses, you think you have figured out a lot of the details of your space.  Things like brewhouse, packaging size, general location of warehouse.  You think you have made a lot of these decisions, but you haven’t.

You continue to work on your business plan, making what you think are decisions and changes of direction …. and then you do it.  You find a space to lease and you take possession.  This is when it starts to really happen.  You actually start making decisions, like general contractor, architect, brewhouse size, etc.  You think you are doing well, because you have made actual and concrete decisions.

What you don’t realize, is that you have only started on the tip of the iceberg.  There are thousands of decisions to make.  None of them are more or less important than any of the others.  Think of details such as these:  Size of cooler door to the inch, length of drainage trenches down to the inch, slope on concrete pour down to the degree, exact location of trade waste interceptor, etc, etc.  There is so many small decisions to make, it can become overwhelming.

Coming full circle, each of these decisions take time, and trust me when I say, you have very little of it.  Your funnel at the top is getting loaded faster than you can empty it.  About a year ago, you could pound out a good 60 hour week and be back on top of everything, but that is a pipe-dream now.  A 60 hour week will only mean that I have about 300 hours of unfinished work sitting around waiting for me to complete.  There is no way of catching up short-term, it is a matter of prioritizing and getting small jobs done.

Add to all this the work around the brewery.  I have been tying rebar and working around the brewery 7 days a week for the past few weeks, and there is still so much to do.  Take for example a typical day in my life.

  • Get up at 5am to 530am
  • Work in front of my computer until 745am
  • Get kids off to school and lunches made 830 to 9am
  • Drive into brewery to do work 930am
  • Manual labour all day at brewery until about 930 am to 3pm
  • Home to do work in front of my computer (accounting, marketing, business planing, etc) 330pm to 5pm
  • Down time, hang with family, 530pm to 8pm
  • After kids in bed, back to computer for more work 8pm to 11pm
  • Off to bed to do it again

This is a pretty standard day, and I know one that my partner also goes through.  If you are going to open a brewery, and you want to take an active role in starting it, be prepared for a day like this.

What you will find is that how badly you really want to do this will go a long way to making the above feel like work, versus feeling like a dream.  Luckily for Iain and I, the long days are a dream and the passion is burning brighter than ever, so we know we have made the right decision.

Best Practices 1st 1/2 of Mechanical

Having just got through the Mechanical portion of the construction of our warehouse, I feel like there is a lot of information that is crucial and really important for future reference.  In all, this is probably the part of the job that is filled with the most grunt work.  It is messy and for the most part thankless work that requires lots of lower back strength and willpower.  There are times that I wanted to quit for the day, but what served the process really well was to persevere and make it to the end of the day.

Like every major step of this process, I have learned much about this portion of the construction process, and I have completed a chart below that helps to summarize the key learnings.

  1. Pick the Right Mechanical Contractor:  This is likely the most obvious item on this list, but the one that needs the most time and attention before things start.  Make sure you work with a mechanical contractor that is willing to work with you throughout the process.  Things like are they going to dedicate their time to the job, are they using 1 man or a 3 man crew, or even how many days of work do they expect the sections to take.  Knowing some of the details, will help your expectations be in line with reality
  2. Make sure you look for ways to cut costs, and make sure to negotiate these reduction in fees can go into your pocket and not your mechanical contractor:  By this I mean, if you want to change something, like a trade waste interceptor or location of a drain, the expectation is that they will not overcharge you for this.  You will need to talk about items that could change down the road.  We have changed a lot of stuff.  Hot water tank, locations of drains, flow meter, trade waste interceptor, and a bunch of other small stuff.  What is important is that we talked about this early on in the process, and we have hammered out a good deal with these kinds of things.
  3. Get ready to dig:  You can hire someone to dig, and the cheapest we could find labour through someone else is $25 per hour all in.  If you want to hire someone off the street, they are not going to be covered by WCB, which is a big no-no, and more importantly if something happens, you are screwed.  So this means that to save money you are going to be working that shovel.  Between Iain and I, we spent over 150 hours combined on the shovel, which by my quick math has saved us about $4,000.  It doesn’t seem like a lot, but in the grand scheme of things, that is $4,000 more we have for something else.
  4. Get the right size trade waste interceptor:  Getting a TWI too big or too small will mean trouble no matter how you cut it.  If you get one too large, you won’t have to clean it out very often, but it will be a pain in the ass to install into your floor.  A TWI that we looked at was over 11,000 lbs, which had a list of issues when you were trying to install.  If you get a TWI that is too small, it might be a lot easier to install, but you will be calling every month to get it cleaned out.
  5. Use a plastic trade waste interceptor:  We ended up going with a plastic TWI which solved all our problems.  It was less expensive that a traditional TWI and it was a lot lighter than a normal TWI, at only 350 lbs.  In fact, it only took of us to lift it in the hole.  Make sure you make the decision on this early in the process.  You don’t want to hold up the process with fretting about a decision.
  6. Get drawings from your Structural engineer early on in the process:  I have written a full post about our issues around a structural engineer, so if you follow my blog you know well our issues with this area.  In short, get your structural engineer on board early, and make sure you agree to a timeline of what needs to be completed and when.  If your expectations are met, you are golden.  If your expectations aren’t met, then you need to take action.  At the end of the day, it is your ass on the line.
  7. Get lots of quotes:  There is more to this aspect of the process than just the mechanical work.  There is laying out of the floor plan, concrete cutting, concrete removal, digging, grading. forming for concrete, installation of rebar, drilling of holes for rebar, packing holes, filling with dirt, compacting, and likely more and more digging.  You can choose to do some of this on your own or you can pay someone to do it all.  Our advice, save some money and do it yourself.
  8. Don’t forget about the flow meter:  I can’t say that I know too much about this, but definitely the city of Vancouver requires a flow meter, located after the TWI, to measure the amount of effluent you pass into city sanitary sewers.  Make sure you include this in your plans when you dig, so that you aren’t left doing additional digging afterwards like we did.
  9. Upgrade the water line:  We didn’t need to put an upgraded water line in, but you will likely be doing this through this part of the process.  I can’t say I know anything about this, but I have heard it costs about $10,000 and up depending on how far the line needs to go.  I am sure its no harder than any of the other digging that happens, it just adds to the amount you are doing.
  10. Tamp the ground excessively:  It is better to tamp the ground more than less, so that you have less movement of the substrate down the road.  This is pretty simple, but it is easy to overlook as the whole process is so grinding.  Just do one extra pass to make sure all goes in well.
  11. Cover up areas near the concrete pour with plastic:  Pouring concrete is a dirty, messy job and the guys that do it, don’t really care about anything other than getting the job done.  We were given the advice to cover areas around the concrete pour with plastic, so that the spray of the pouring wouldn’t get everywhere else.  We are really glad we did this, and it saved us a lot of headaches.  The few areas we didn’t cover we wish we did, as they are sprayed with concrete and we can’t get it off.