Tag Archives: Growler Fills

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.

How to Keep all the Balls in the Air – A Schedule!

Having a schedule for the process of opening a brewery is huge.  I am not talking a little to do list of what needs to get done and when.  I mean an excel spreadsheet with the major items of starting a brewery in headings and then a timeline of when decisions need to be made.  It is the only way to keep all the balls in the air and make sure you don’t delay in decisions that need to be made, or forget others.

Unfortunately, we have gotten away from our schedule and it has come back to bite us in the ass a little bit.  Let me explain, and hopefully you can create your own so that you don’t have the same thing happen to you.

When I was first writing our business plan, I had a schedule of all the things that I thought we would be doing.  It was really about 30-40 lines of action items, with a date.  Click the link below for a copy of an older schedule that I was using, and while I updated it partially along the way, it was never really a living document.

Schedule for LCBC

What we really needed was a document that my partner and I updated weekly, that was really much more thorough than the one you can view by link.  I would have put various headings like:

  • Sales and Marketing
  • Equipment
  • Retrofit of Warehouse
  • Accounting
  • Raw Materials
  • Electrical
  • etc, etc

Under each of these headings I would have subcategories with all individual items that need to be done.  For instance, under the equipment heading I would have the following:

  • Brewhouse
  • Kegging
  • Packaging
  • Conditioning/fermenting
  • etc, etc

This way we could track all the details that need to get done.  This is really important.  A lot of details can fall through the cracks, so make sure you have a living schedule document that you can refer to on a regular basis.

There are some other benefits to a schedule. It can track timeline for decisions, like getting quotes from suppliers.  A schedule can also set drop-dead dates for decisions, which I highly recommend, as if you delay some decisions they will have a snowballing effect on other decisions.  A schedule can also help to identify who needs to do what in a partner ship.  Having a responsible person for an action might seem redundant, but it can just make sure there is someone doing the work, and not a moment of, “I thought you were doing that!”  Lastly, a schedule can help you sleep at night.  Instead of thinking about all the things you need to do, just go to bed knowing that there is a list, and so long as you keep the schedule up to date, you need not lose sleep.

So next time I start a brewery (insert laughter here), I will be sure to use the schedule like I have used the cash flow, marketing plan and retrofit budget …. as much as I can.  Let this be a lesson for you as well.  Create a schedule and make sure you update and check it weekly.

 

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.

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.

 

Landing Page Is Live

The process of getting all your customer facing material complete is full of ups and downs, set-backs and great moments.  For some reason, we always seem to be behind everyone else in getting this stuff complete!  If you have followed this blog, you know that things like our name, our logo and our packaging are works in progress.  Some days it feels like we will never get all the the items completed in time for launch which is now less than 5 months away.  Yikes!

This week we crossed of one small piece of our brand off the list:  Our Landing Page.  It was completed over the course of about 12 weeks, and while it is pretty simple, the process was full of change and tough decisions.  In the end, we are super happy with what we ended up having.  If you want to view our landing page, click on this link to be redirected.

Key learnings from landing page development, and web development for that matter:

  1. Start on this sooner rather than later:  Don’t wait as long as we did.  Consumers want to connect with you, so make sure you allow them the opportunity to do that.
  2. Expect 12 weeks start to finish:  If you are anything like us, there will be changes, u-turns, miscommunication, and a few other things that I can’t even mention.  All this makes a rather simple task a lot more of a grind.
  3. Prepare a brand guide:  This is a key step in the process to getting your brand ideal and message known to yourself, and then to others who are going to work with you.  Don’t leave it to a 30 minute meeting to let a web developer get a feel for your brand.  There has to be something concrete they can sit and read, minimizing the margin for error.
  4. It takes a while to see progress:  It feels like trying to get out of bed some mornings.  There are a couple false alarms, there is snooze involved, a little confusion, and a lot of light steps to get going.  Sometimes, after getting going, you just head back to bed and let it go for a little.  Building a website is a LOT like this.
  5. Stay connected with those helping:  No doubt about it, the more leash you give someone, the more likely they are to go down the wrong path and end up at a place that doesn’t mesh with you and your brand plan.  So have regular meetings and ask to see enough information to be kept abreast of things.
  6. Get detailed scope of work:  When you first sit down to finalize an agreement with a developer lets say, you will agree to a scope of work for your project.  If you want to add something down the road that is not in this scope of work, you are going to pay out of pocket.  As such, either agree to a rate for extra work, or budget in 10% of the total hours for misc work.
  7. Speak up: If you don’t say what you do and don’t like, you will not end up with a finished product that matches what you thought you would have.
  8. Balance:  Not sure what else to put as a heading here.  Sometimes you need to let someone else decide what is best for your brand, which goes against your taste or preference.  Others you need to get that person to change direction, against what they like.  It is a balance and one with no prescribed way of moving forward.  Just hope that you, or those you surround yourself with, have enough similarity and differences in opinion for a healthy relationship.
  9. Build from Scratch or use a wordpress:  Thats right, you will need to decide whether your website is built from scratch or uses wordpress as the foundation.  One costs more, but gives you a very custom website, and the other is much less expensive.
  10. Do something unique:  For us, in addition to writing this blog about starting our brewery, we added a webcam to our website, so people who are interested can view what is going on during construction without having to be there.  Just having another website with the usual information is not enough in my opinion.  Craft beer is booming, which is a great thing in so many ways, but also means you need to stand out a little bit.
  11. Brand Continuity:  Make sure that your website reflects who you are, the beer you are going to make, the brewery you are going to build, and what you think you should represent.  If you get away from this, you will end up at a place that is entirely what you don’t want.

So there it is.  Another set of best practices for starting a brewery.  There is so much more to a website than meets the eye, so don’t take this for granted.  Get thinking about this early on, and start much sooner than you think you need to.

Webcam is up … and almost working perfect

We have added a webcam to our brewhouse, and after earning a undergraduate degree in this kind of thing, it is now live.  While there is nothing to see this weekend, and the feed needs a little refinement, we are now able to broadcast live the process of starting a brewery.

We hope that in combination with this blog, and the other information we have put into the world, we will encourage many others to follow their dream and start a craft brewery.  It is a labour of love, but something that you will never regret IMO.

Anyhow, we will be sure to post a schedule of when things are happening, so that you can watch the process of starting a brewery from the comforts of your own home.

Click here for the link and I promise that within a couple days the feed will be more clear.  For now, the camera is pointing to the South half of our warehouse, but as things happen it will shift back and forth between both areas, so you can see everything that is going on.