Tag Archives: How to Open a Craft Brewery

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.

 

Floorplan Update and Best Practices

Some of you may have come across a story written by Greg Clow of Canadian Beer News.  If you live in Canada and you are serious about beer, you should be checking his website on a regular basis.  Click here to link with our story and Canadian Beer News.  His article focused on Strange Fellows operations and what our full floor plan will look like when complete.

I have included both the layout we have moved forward with as well as the side profile of the space, so you can get a sense of the way our operations will look.  Not unlike anything else we put out there, things will change somewhat as we move ahead; however, 90% of what is on paper here will be represented in our build-out at the space.  Once you commit to submitting building, electrical and mechanical permits, you are also committing to what you have on paper.  So in other words, the size of a window in our tasting room that overlooks the brew house may get bigger, but we have committed the location for the bathrooms, the trade waster interceptor and the trenches.

Brewhouse Layout March 2014

Brewhouse Profile March 2014

We have allocated a total of $12,500 for permits throughout this process.  I have blogged about them a little bit under The Process of Starting a Craft Brewery, subcategory X:  Government Stuff.  There are lots of permits you need and getting them all in a timely manner is important.  To be honest, the process of preparing for permits and approval is one of the keys to getting this process right.  In short, for your business to move forward you need to submit for your permits in a timely manner, with information that is well thought out, thorough and correct.  Changes or missed steps here will cost you down the road.  Read more about permits at the page linked above (and I will add more details in the next week).

Anyhow, coming full circle here, our floor plan was a real labour of love.  Like any decisions you make with a partner, there is give and take.  However, when you add in an architect, mechanical and electrical engineers, a general contractor and your finances, you get a mish-mash of opinion and information.  You can never make a decision without effecting every other decision you have made in the past, and every other decision you will make in the future.

Some of the keys when creating a floor plan are as follows:

  • Keep everything as central as possible.  The longer runs you have for any electrical or mechanical, the more cash you will bleed.  For us, moving our main electrical panel 10 feet saved us $3,000.  So you can see that small changes can make a big difference.
  • Plan for the future, but prioritize getting to day 1.  It is important to think a couple of steps ahead here, at least that is what I have heard from other breweries, but don’t lose sight that you need to get to day 1.
  • Look to save money at every step.  Ok, maybe you are better at this than I am, but we are in full cash saving mode, and we feel like we have been for a long time.  Any chance we can save money on something, we are doing it.
  • Tasting room and Retail area.  A huge part of all these breweries starting up in Vancouver is the ability to sell your products from your business.  It takes what was once an impossible task, and makes it so much more realistic of an opportunity.  So make sure you design a space that works for your brewery.  For us we wanted something intimate, open to the brewery, and simple.
  • Work with sub trades early in the process.  You don’t have to pick who you are working with, but bouncing plans off them will give you real world answers to questions you have.  It was also help you find savings and efficiencies in your space.
  • Another dilemma on decisions.  You can have things done quickly, you can have things done for your budget, and you can have things done inline with your dreams, but at best you will get 2 of these things, but most of the time you will only get 1 of these things.  What will you pick?
  • Call the room where you mill your grains a “grain cracking room”.  Trust me on this one, it will save you a bunch of headaches at the City
  • Depending on if you are focusing on production or focusing on tasting room/retail sales, your layout may be different.  For us, we are a production brewery first, so the layout and design of the space tried to take this into account as much as possible.  Process workflow, material in and material out, future expansion are all important to us, and are reflected in our space.
  • Keep your cooler close to the tasting room.  Iain has so much experience with this kind of thing, that he is adamant that these 2 things need to be connected.  He talks about the shorter the run of lines, and being able to connect our taps to tanks instead of kegs will save us heaps of time.

What really gets us excited about our space is the connection between the tasting room and the brewery.  When you are sitting in our tasting room, you will quite literally be 10 feet away from the brewhouse.  Want to watch Iain add hops to a brew, just sit back enjoy your beer and watch from your perch.  You will also be able to have a first hand view of the barrel storage area, which we think is a really cool thing.  We also think the art gallery will add a nice connection to the local community, and we hope the growler and retail area will have good process flow so as to not back-up too much.

As I have always said, Iain is really good with this kind of thing, so if you have questions about how to lay your brewery out, feel free to contact us.  At the end of the day, follow your instincts on the way things should be.  Whether you have experience with this kind of thing or not, make sure you follow what you would want as a consumer.  You will deal with enough people along the way that aren’t into craft beer (like contractors, architects, etc) that their opinion will help to balance yours out.  Stay positive and you will find the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Crushing Day for Us ….

Well, the last 36 hours has been full of angst on behalf of both Iain and myself.  We finally received a detailed budget from our general contractor, and to put it bluntly, we are going to be way over budget on building our brewery.  It is an extremely bitter pill to swallow, especially after the increases we have made throughout this process to our budget.  At the end of the day, we are building a much larger brewery than we anticipated, and with a larger brewery comes bigger costs.

When I look back at my old copies of the business plan, I have to chuckle to myself as I once thought the retrofit of a warehouse, not including equipment, was going to cost about $400,000.  I look at that number and can’t help but think how naive I was.  That is both a good thing and a bad thing.  If I knew how much this endeavour was really going to cost I might have passed on following this particular dream.  I thought the $400,000 was enough to put up some walls, trenches, upgrade power, and put all the equipment in.  Boy was I wrong.  This was about 2012 when I was really starting to get into planning this brewery

Fast forward to late 2012, and after much encouragement from other brewery owners that I met with, we increased this amount to about $550,000.  In my mind, this was an increased of about 30% over my initial budget, and I thought this would be plenty.  But as you learn more about what is required to retrofit a warehouse, the number keeps getting chipped away.  All of a sudden, the additional money that came with a bigger budget seemed to have disappeared.

Fast forward again to early 2013, and it was time to increase the retrofit budget again.  It just seemed impossible that with tasting rooms and their pending approval, along with the realization of additional costs with most spaces, that we could retrofit a space for any less than about $650,000.  At the time, this seemed like a good number, and even included a sprinkler upgrade and water line upgrade.  We figure we would be free and clear, so we charged ahead with this number in our mind.

It was at this time we started to inquire with investors about financing our brewery.  We based many assumptions on this cost, including how much we needed to raise from angel investors.  $650,000 seemed like our golden ticket to get everything we wanted.  So we charged on and hoped that we could what we wanted for this amount.

Then in the summer of 2013 we found what would eventually become our warehouse.  It was bigger than we really needed, but it gave us an excellent location, and most importantly a great landlord that wanted a brewery in his building.  We had our architect in, a couple contractors, some sub trades, engineers, etc and they all pointed to a retrofit cost of about $725,000, depending on a lot of things, such as electrical upgrade and flooring.  I have written about these items in the past, and they were huge uncertainties with out space.  So we moved forward with a newly increased budget of about $725,000 for a retrofit.

So fast forward to this week.  We met with our architect and general contractor to discuss the quotes they have received from sub trades (like mechanical contractor, electrical contractor, concrete slab specialist, etc) and also the budget from our general contractor on all the little things that make up our brewery.  All of this information, along with our wishes and desires, was put into a spreadsheet and at the very bottom of a huge excel file, there sat what was the anticipated retrofit cost of our brewhouse.  The total estimated cost for our retrofit was (drum roll) …. $925,000. 

It is hard to put into words what was going through my mind when this was presented.  It was like someone kicked me in the stomach …. and then kicked me again.  It was awkward for our architect and our contractor, as they could see that what I had believed and what I had assumed was wrong.  I must have looked like a deer in headlights.  Even now, I am fully consumed by frustration and anger that I just can’t seem to shake.  How is it possible that I ever thought $400,000 was enough?  It just seems plain old absurd!

We are so deep into this process, so far down the road, that there is no option but to find solutions.  For starters, it is very likely that the tasting room will have picnic tables and used chairs, be lacking any real artwork and design aesthetic, and have very little “extras” that other tasting rooms might have.  We have also had to dial back a few optional pieces of equipment that we hoped to have for the brewery.  Essentially, there will be a cascade of changes that are mostly out of our control, in addition to some extra cash that we need to raise from investors.

If I could pass some information onto others, I would make note of the following costs you might be looking at:

  • Electrical Upgrade – $75,000 and up
  • Mechanical – $125,000 and up
  • Tasting Room – $50,000 and up
  • Labour costs – $100,000
  • Development and Building Permits – $10,000
  • Concrete – $25,000 and up
  • Boiler and Installation – $35,000
  • Contingency – Easy 10% of your budget
  • Architect Fees – $25,00 and up
  • Engineer Fees – $20,000 and up
  • Management Fee (from General Contractor) – Cost plus 10%
  • Epoxy Flooring – $15,000 and up

Of course there is a long list of other small items, and they have all creeped up in cost, as we have a 9,000 square foot space.

In another few months, I will be sure to post all of our business plan online, so you can see for yourself what all the details in starting a brewery are.  For now, just know that what you think things will cost, will likely double from your initial estimates.  Just hope and pray that you have way more money than you need, or at least a network of people who would be able to offer some financial support to your business.

I hope to have some answers to our dilemma early next week, and I will pass along any notes I have on how to find savings in a budget that doesn’t seem to have a lot of wiggle room.

 

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.

New Breweries Opening In BC

We are set to be part of an amazing community.  It is the quality of people in this business that not only encourage new breweries, but also support the current breweries in the market.  People like you to be honest.  You read blogs about beer, you support craft breweries, you tweet about beer, you talk to all your friends about the amazing beers you’ve had, and you travel near and far to taste different beers.

The result of this is to encourage new breweries to open.    In fact, I pulled this graphic from the Brewers Association in the USA to show how the number of breweries has skyrocketed over the past 25 years.

126-Brewery-Count-HR

It makes a person ask the question, how many breweries is the market capable of sustaining?  Trying to guess this is like trying to figure out how much higher real estate prices can go in Vancouver.  So I grabbed the closest comparison to beer …. wine!  It made me wonder how many wineries are there now.  I found this graphic from wines and vines and it shows the number of wineries in the USA over the past few years.  As you can see, there are more than 7,500 wineries in the USA, which is about 5,000 more than the total number of breweries.

Winneries in USA

So when I see this, it makes me feel like there is a lot of room in the market for more breweries right?!?!  If there are 5,000 more wineries than there are breweries, then there must be room for anther 2,500 to 4,000 breweries???

So what does all this mean to the number of breweries in BC?  Well, the most excellent beer writer and blogger Jan Zeschky of the Province Newspaper recently published an article on new Breweries opening in 2014 in this great province.  Click here for the full article.  He identifies 19 new breweries that are set to open this year, which will surely be a record for British Columbia.

We are set to be part of this amazing community, and when I think pragmatically about things, I believe there is a lot of room for all the breweries opening up, and more.  So if you dare dream about opening a brewery, or any other business for that matter, do it.  Life is too short to put it off any longer.

I am living proof (and so is this blog) that your dreams can become reality, so long as you have a plan, you spend the time needed, and you surround yourself with amazing people.  Of course, there are a few other details that need to go along with these big picture things, but don’t let them get in the way of following a passion.

So bring on the 19 new breweries this year, and I say bring on another 19 next year and 19 more the year after that.  Lets fill the marketplace in BC with as wide a variety of breweries as possible.  I also hope that these breweries continue to do wild and amazing things with the beer they make.  Lets push the boundaries, lets challenge the ordinary and lets realize the potential that is within each and every brewery in this province.

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.