Tag Archives: Strange Fellows Brewing

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.

 

90 Days Out?!?!

Give or take a few days, we are about 90 days from opening our brewery, and the list of stuff we need to do and decide on seems to have only gotten longer and bigger.  When you are about 90 days out, the major decisions have been made, but there is still a lot of decisions to be made that can change the outcome of this process.  Let me recap where we are in the process so you can see what needs to be done.

We have finished all the in-ground mechanical work.  So plumbing, running conduit, reinforcing of concrete for tanks, upgrading floors, pouring curbs, trade waste interceptor, flow meter, drains, and a bunch of other stuff has all been decided.  That means we have made decisions galore to get to this point.  Having someone on board like Iain Hill, who has experience in starting a brewery is huge.  He has been down this road before, and knows what is a need to have and a nice to have.

We are currently getting all of our walls built  for the brewery interior, and while there is little work for the partners to do, there a lot of office work for us to complete.  The work of our carpenters is really important, albeit very slow.  Building walls and making sure they are square, level and plumb is tedious work at best, and requires a crew to make sure it all goes well.  While construction is at this point, there is a lit of other things we need to accomplish.

Most of the items revolve around the front of house.  We need to take the bar from conceptual to design.  That means we need to know what we are putting in the bar, the dimensions of those items, where we want shelves, drawers and other items, where does the sink go, where the POS goes, how many POS, etc.  All of this information then gets meshed with the best practices of our architect and then created into a set of drawings for us to send out to tender.  Once we choose who makes them, they then need to be manufactured, delivered and installed. The whole process seems to take about 12 weeks, so timing is of the essence.

While all of this is happening, our mechanical contractor is running pipes overhead, to and from all the important locations in the brewery, and our electrical contractor is upgrading our power and making things happen from an electrical point of view.

Now is also the time to start deciding on exterior colours and upgrades as we are nearing the time when this will need to be completed.  We have been working towards getting our sign ordered and it has been a bit of a mess in knowing who to use and what to get.  Our exterior sign is old and is going to cost a bunch of money to repair.  So do we pick something that is going to hold for a couple years, until we have cash to really replace it, or do we make the big upgrade now?  We are leaning towards saving the money as we have made a mess of our budget.  Saving money when we can seems really important.

All of our major equipment has been ordered, and we are just looking for odds and ends to round out the brewing side.  Iain is busy working on the draft system/growler fill area, and what we are going to do and how all that is going to come together.  I can’t say I know much, but what I know seems to confuse me.  Looks like we can go with a few different options, and each has pro’s and con’s, which I can fully describe at this time, as I haven’t been working in that bucket.

The schedule which I spoke about in my last post, gets changed almost daily, and drop dead dates are really important to adhere to.  So is having regular meetings to stay on top of all the decisions that each partner is making.  For instance, I have the exterior sign, website construction, marketing buckets to figure things out in, and Iain has the bar and equipment buckets to work in, and before you know it, you can make decisions in your own mind without talking to the other person.  So you seem to spend hours writing emails and following up on things with your partner, just so they know what they heck is going on.  A bit tedious, but sooooo important.

From here, we have lots more to do, and while we are very close, it feels in a way like we are so far away.  Its hard to think that in the next 90 days, all that is our space and mess of things, will get cobbled together into a usable brewery and tasting room.  Sometimes it still doesn’t feel like it will happen.

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.

 

The Nitty Gritty of Laying out a Floor Plan

When you come along to the choice of laying out your brewery, get ready for a long and winding road.  One that will likely lead you to the wall and back, and also lead you to a place that you never really thought that you would be.  The reality is there are factors involved in your layout that you can think about and plan for, and others that you simply must deal with as they come up.

Before you can even start to work on your layout, there are a million things you will need to go through.  I would start by talking to other breweries, and find out what they like about their layout and what they don’t.  Be sure to ask lots of why questions.  You will also need to figure out how much money you have, as planning for a huge brewery will also mean huge bills.  Other factors include the size of your space and your future plans for growth, among others.

One of the most important components to think about in your layout is completely dependent on what you are doing, and what your goals are.  For instance, if you want to follow in the footsteps of Brassneck Brewing, or other breweries that are just selling their product in their own retail space, you will have a much different layout than if you want to be a production brewery, like Coal Harbour.  For us, we wanted to be somewhere in the middle, which is likely what you want to do as well.

So the elevator version of how you layout your space goes like this:

  1. Lease space
  2. Walk through and work with architect to understand ins and outs of space
  3. Build business plan around this space
  4. Determine amount of finances needed
  5. Get first plan from architect

After you get the first floor plan from the architect, you will officially begin a journey that will likely last about 6 months, and involve head scratching, high-fives and deep lows.  At the end of it, you will hopefully get a floor plan that is not too much of a compromise  and enough of what you had in mind at the beginning of things.

Think about the process for a second.  Lets say you have 3 places you can put the brew house.  Each of these areas has pros and cons.  It is truly a prisoners dilemma.  You can have things in the optimal place, you can have it done quickly, you can have it done under budget, and you can have it for the best place for your future growth, but maybe you will get 2 of these things, but likely just 1.  What do you pick and why?

Once you agonize over the location, you then need to start figuring how all the ancillary services and equipment will get to the location.  This is no small task and will involve the help and advice of your architect.  Once you then figure these basics out, you will actually need to order your equipment.  You will know what configuration you want for your brew house, and how it connect into the footprint you have created, but then this another level of questions.

Think about some of the minutiae needed:

  • Where do you want the drains
  • Where do you want water and electrical services
  • Where do you want the grain hopper
  • Where do you want the slopes and what angle

Once you figure these things out, there is another level of detail.  And I am talking exact detail …. down to the millimetre.  For instance if you are going to put your brewhouse in position A, where exactly is the drainage pipe going to go.  That means you have to work it out with the manufacturer of your equipment where this is exactly, and then map it out on your floor plan, so your mechanical contractor can give you the drain exactly where it needs to be.  Getting this kind of stuff wrong can make your life a nightmare.  And this example is just for the brewhouse. The same also goes for all the other functional areas of a brewery.

All of this means that you need to have an attention to detail.  If you leave this kind of stuff to others, you are relying on their knowledge and effort, and that may or may not work out for you.  There are literally hundreds of decisions like this to make when you are building and developing your floor plan.  Make sure you put an effort in that will give you exactly what you want.

We have found that we are making decisions over and over.  It might be annoying for others, like our sub-trades or architect …. ok it is definitely annoying for them, but I can’t see the process carrying out any other way.  How could you not change what you want over and over when it comes to something so complicated like building a brewery.

So back to the original question:  What factors are important.  I would narrow the list down to 5 things:

  1. Planning for future growth
  2. The location and interaction of your tasting room to production
  3. Inherent issues, characteristics and flow of your warehouse
  4. Budget
  5. Maximal use of space

If you can focus on these things, then your floor plan should end up in a good spot.  Not unlike building a house, there are always going to  be things that you would change, but the balance between current and future needs, along with finances will most likely determine exactly what ends up going where.  In the meantime, if you have questions or concerns, Iain is a master of this kind of thing, so give him a call.

 

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 … Writing a Business Plan

I spent the night on Sunday at Hoppapalooza, one of the best events for Vancouver Craft Beer Week, hosted by the amazing Alibi Room.  I had the chance to speak with many amazing people at party, many of whom gave me great suggestions and advice on what choices to make with our brewery.  I was asked numerous questions about our business and starting a brewery, which I found very interesting and flattering.  One of the questions I was asked several times throughout the night, was about writing a business plan.  It is also one of the questions that I get asked most often via email, by way of this blog.

So instead of going on and on about the business plan, what to put into it and what not to put into it, I figured it would be best to just give a few pointers and then a list of important points to consider when creating one.

  1. Start with the end in mind:  Yes, this is one of Stephen Coveys 7 habits of highly effective people, but I have always liked this point.  So in other words, what are you going to use the business plan for?  Your answer to this question will directly effect the scope of your plan.  A plan to just figure out your operations might be a little different than one aimed at investors.
  2. Put more into it, get more out of it:  Our business plan was a real labour of love.  We put excessive amounts of time and energy into our plan, as both Iain and I have personalities that make us overly fastidious about this kind of thing.  So we spent a lot of time making sure that we planned every detail, and projected every scenario, good and bad.
  3. No matter what, this is your roadmap:  We refer to our business plan on a regular basis, and it has become a living document for our business.  The great thing about having a plan is that it also allows any difference in opinion you may have with your partner to be vetted.  Moreover, the roadmap ensures that when you opinion changes in the future on something, you can judge it against a baseline, of what you once thought.
  4. Plan for about 6 months minimum:  I can’t see how you could write a well thought out business plan in less time than this.  Our business plan was a solid 12 months of writing, and then about 2 years of reviewing and revising every component of it.  By the end of the 2 years, our plan had completely changed several times over to become what it is now.  Moving forward, our plan will surely continue to change, and each time, we will take the time to update the details, so that our roadmap stays accurate.
  5. Its all about the financials:  Your cash flow is the most important part of the business plan.  It has to be realistic and it has to prove that you can make money quickly and consistently.  If you financials don’t add up, then you need to re-evaluate what you are doing  and the approach you are taking.  Our cash flow has become a monster, and it is something that without, we would be lost.
  6. Keep it short and sweet:  No matter what, but out all the crap.  Your plan should be no more than 25 pages written and about 25 exhibits.  For your financial projections, create a high, low and medium.  Shoot for the stars with your high projections …. say Parallel 49 or Driftwood.  Aim for realistic on the medium …. say Powell Street or Coal Harbour.  Seriously tank on the low, so you know what could happen …. say Surgenor or other under performing brewery.  The low will get you out of bed at 5am, the high will keep you dreaming of what could be, and the medium is likely where you will end up (I think).
  7. Don’t use we, use your company name:  Maybe this is just a stylistic thing or my personal preference, but you are not talking about you, or your life.  You are discussing a business that you may or may not be a part of down the line.  According to your lawyer and accountant, your business is an entity unto itself, so refer to it that way.
  8. Have sub plans for various facets:  We have a marketing plan that is about 25 pages, and a production plan, that is also about 25 pages, along with a few other plans we are working on.  Each of these detailed plans will be shortened and augmented to fit within your plan.  Just put a note in that section of the business plan, that there is more information if the reader so desires.
  9. Non-disclosure:  You may be handing out your business plan more than you think, so you will need to decide who needs to sign a NDA and who doesn’t.  From what I read, anyone that is a seasoned investor, don’t bother asking them to sign one.  It will be insulting.  But for others who are already in the business, or locals who you might think will tell the world what you have planned, it is your call.  We really never had anyone sign our NDA, other than some local brewery owners who we were going to partner with (but didn’t) several years ago.
  10. Prepare a presentation:  Maybe not if you don’t need any investors, but for those of you who need outside investment in your brewery, create a power point presentation of your plan, and summarize the key points.  Make sure you let the people know what is in it for them.  They will always want to know what they will get in return for allowing you to use their hard earned money.  Practice your presentation over and over, until you feel at ease.  Make sure you try it out on a few people before you go to any actual investors.
  11. Prepare to get rejected:  I didn’t track all my failures as much as could have, but I will tell you that I met with about 50 people over the course of 18 months, and we have only about 10 investors in our brewery.  That meant I had a 1 in 5 success rate.  You may be much better than this, but no matter what, expect some people to pass on your opportunity.  Don’t take it personally, ask a lot of questions why they didn’t go with you, and learn so that you can minimize this moving forward.
  12. Be proud, positive and confident:  I am overly realistic, so one of my biggest challenges was that I didn’t sugar coat anything for anyone.  I never promised that we would make it, never promised riches at the end of the journey, so if things did go off the rails, I would have my conscious clear.  However, you can still be proud and positive about what you are doing.  In fact, this is super important.  No one else will believe in you, if you don’t believe in yourself.
  13. Use a business plan guide:  I have my business plan guide in storage, so I can’t tell you which one I used, but be sure to have a guide that will help walk you through each of the key facets of your business plan.  A guide explains all the details that you need to know, and will help you determine how to best write your plan.  I have written a total of 4 business plans in my lifetime, and I still wouldn’t consider writing a business plan without some sort of guide to help write the plan.

So that is my best practices on writing a business plan.  I will gladly send you a copy of my business plan, should you want to see what we created.  Just send me a message.  Best of luck, and writing a business plan can be a lot of fun, so make sure you prepare yourself for an amazing journey.

 

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.

Hitting the Wall

Today I lost my shit at about 4pm.  After a week of burning the candle at both ends, getting only about 5 hours sleep a night, and having one of the busiest weeks of the year, I literally melted at about 4pm.  I couldn’t talk, hold a conversation, engage with my wife or kids, or even crack a smile.  The burden of this brewery, and all the associated mental and physical work involved got the better of me.

So instead of writing about this, or anything else, I am going to take the rest of the night off and get some rest.  I had planned to write about best practices for concrete, mechanical and trade waste interceptor, but it will have to wait for another day.

I feel I have been ignoring this blog, so I do feel bad about not writing too much of late, but I hope that next week will be a chance to write more.  Thanks to everyone for your continued support and I hope to have some good articles this week.

The jobs involved in opening a brewery …

There are many things to do in starting a business, that much is for sure.  But let me be the first to say that there are about twice as many jobs to get done as you first anticipate, when you are conjuring up your business plan months and years before actually taking that leap of faith.  With the help of this post, you can plan ahead, learn some skills, mentor from someone who has experience, take a few classes, or just meet someone with a complimentary skill set to yours.

In no particular order, here are the things you need to be good at:

  1. Salesperson:  Maybe I put this first because I feel like there is so much of this process that you need to get buy-in on.  Whether it be your spouse and why they should support you in opening a craft brewery, investors to see a bright future in your business, or even possible partners to believe in what you are doing, you are always pitching an idea to someone it seems.  Not a lot of people have sales experience, so I would recommend Spin Selling by Neil Rackham
  2. Janitor:  Get really good at sweeping.  This means finding a messy floor somewhere and getting a good broom and going to town.  A couple techniques.  There is the long stroke or the short stroke.  I seem to prefer long strokes on smooth surfaces and short strokes on rough surfaces
  3. Accounting:  There is no way you want to get behind on this one.  From the start, have a good idea of your plan for taking care of the books and reporting this information.  We use an accountant and they have set us up on a system that works with their office.  Essentially, we track everything in quickbooks, pay every bill and invoice, and then push this to them at the end of the year.  Easy enough, but it was a long road to get here.  My recommendation is to use Quickbooks, which is available online for $250.00 or so.
  4. Digger:  Another really important skill to have.  I suggest you head to the beach, and try digging a couple holes and a trench.  Do this a couple times a week, so that when it comes time to dig up floors, or shovel dirt, you are in prime shape to make this happen.  A key here is to manage your shovel loads.  Not too much dirt now …
  5. Marketing:  I have always kept marketing separate from sales as I think they are 2 very different things.  In short, marketing is the long term plan and vision for your brand, and sales is the day-to-day activity.  Read some books, look at other companies, brands and marketing whenever you can, and learn from others who specialize in this to get a better understanding of what you should (and shouldn’t) do.  My book recommendation here is Permission Marketing by Seth Godin.
  6. Steelworker:  My hands don’t lie, you will need to get good installing and tying rebar and wire.  I suggest you go get a job tying rebar for a week at a local construction site.  Make a B-Line for the site super and tell them how your baby soft hands are in need of toughening up.  Don’t forget to strengthen your lower back as well, as you will be bending over for most of the day.  Just find your happy place, and try to think about how great it will be to serve your beer to the world when you are finished.
  7. Decision Maker:  You will need to to learn how to make decisions based on the advice of others.  It will often involve a complex set of parameters with varying opinions, the exact answer you must decide on your own.  Good examples is whether to lease that warehouse that is empty or what floor plan to use for your brewery.  You will get opinions from realtors, bankers, lawyers, engineers, accountants, architects, and even your friends and family, but at the end of the day, you make the decisions, so don’t overlook or underestimate what is important to you and how this decision will play out long term.  My book recommendation is Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, a must read.
  8. Painter:  Up, down, up, down, repeat.  Think of Mr Muyagi in the Karate Kid, and practice for painting with painting.  This process should actually start with power washing, so find a dirty piece of concrete and let loose about 1,000 PSI to see what it feels like.  When you have mastered use of the wand, you can move to painting.  This involves a lot of cutting plastic poly, taping, and scraping.  So get ready for the time of your life!  Remember patience is the key to getting a good paint job.
  9. Social Media:  There are some breweries that open and they have put nothing out there, while there are others who tell everyone what they are doing every step of the way.  I wouldn’t say one approach is right and the other is wrong, I would just say if you aren’t active in social media, at least understand what is happening and how you will take part in that down the road.  My book recommendation here is Guerrilla Marketing
  10. Psychologist:  When you are dealing with trades people, construction workers, and general labourers you are going to hear stories that will make you cringe and make you smile all at the same time.  Time to talk some sanity into these people!
  11. Human Resources:  you are going to hire people down the road, so its important that you understand what skills your team has, and what skills you would like to add to the mix.  Without question, every person you hire is important, but the first couple out of the gate will truly make or break you.  Hiring for Attitude is my book recommendation for this bucket
  12. Bathroom Cleaner:  Thats right!  Get down on your hands and knees and scrub.  Great preparation would be to head into your local Frat house and start cleaning the toilets.  You see, trades people have the aim of a 3 year old boy, and the cleanliness of …. well a construction worker.  So rubber gloves and eye protection are mandatory, while hazmat suit and respirator are optional.
  13. Copywriter:  A bit of sales and a bit of marketing in here, but that is not the point.  You need to be able to convey information to others in written word.  Whether it is your brand statement to consumers, a letter to your architects expressing your desire for changes to a plan, or the content on your website, you need to be able to write in concise terms.  Personally, I am not the best at this, as those who read my blog with regularity can attest, but it sure is something you can work on … like I do in writing this blog.  My book recommendation is Writing that Works.
  14. Phone Hanger Upper:  You will get good at hanging up the phone.  This is a product of having a lot of phone calls, but also a lot of telemarketers call.  I find the best way to get out of the conversation is to cut yourself off mid-sentence, that way the other person will think the line was disconnected.  Don’t hang up while they are talking, as it is a giveaway you did the dirty.
  15. Retail Manager:  A huge portion of a new breweries sales take place at the tasting room and growler fill area.  For a company like Brassneck, the experience they gained from their previous experiences only helped to make their retail experience what it is …. amazing.  Same goes for Bomber and others, as their retail experience only helped them to make sure they got the retail area perfect.  For us, we need to find help on that front.  We need someone who will understand what we are doing, and help us to nail it.  We are looking for this person and hopefully they can come on board at the right time.
  16. Mechanic:  We have yet to experience this one for the most part, but it would be wise to learn some basic skills around fixing things.  I have heard the horror stories of things breaking down and needing repair in a brewhouse are too numerous to mention, so knowing what to do, or who to  call is a very important component of keeping operations smooth.  Remember, red is positive and black is negative.
  17. Delivery Person:  When the production gets going, we know that a good portion of time will be driving around and dropping off product.  We view this interaction as very important, and something that we need to do in person.
  18. Production:  Maybe I put this last because it is the most important on this list.  I still maintain that we can get everything else on this wrong, or not have any skills in those areas, but as long as you make a quality product that is consistent, you will do well.  Maybe I am a little naive, but having good beer will make everything else easier.  So this is where you need to make a choice:  Either find someone who knows and wants to handle production, or learn the skills necessary yourself.  Guys like Ben Coli are a good example of someone who wanted to handle production themselves.  I would be antithesis of this, as I always knew there would be someone else handling this part of operations.  I think at the end of the day, you need to decide what role in the business you want to have, and go for it.  Book recommendation here is any and every book that has to do with brewing or production.

The most interesting thing about this list is that you will be doing all of these things on a daily basis.  There are days I go from item to item to item, and then I repeat a few of them.  That makes the job interesting, but also means you have to get really good at prioritizing, multi tasking, and working in several silos all at the same time.  For instance, as I write this post I am also answering emails, texting my partner and yelling at my kids!

General Contractors and Sub-contractors

One of the most important decisions you can make is around construction of your brewery.  Do you want to have a general contractor guide the process, or do you feel like you have enough time and energy to take the lead on piecing together the build-out?  Depending on your skills, the amount of time you have, your preference for this kind of thing and most importantly your budget, your decision may already be made for you.

We decided to work with a general contractor, Graham Disher of Disher Contracting.  The process for looking to team with a contractor was relatively painless, as at the end of the day, we decided to work with someone that was willing to work with our constraints.  In other words, we are able to offer some ownership shares in lieu of having to raise the money and then pay it as a fee.  In fact, because craft beer is growing so much right now, you could take this approach with many of the different trades that come through your space, and you would be able to do well for yourself in foregoing fees.

At any rate, Graham was also a good choice for more than just his willingness to work with us.  He had the time to dedicate towards our project, he has good experience that will serve us well in various aspects of the buildout, he was trustworthy (and he has continued to show us that), and what he doesn’t know, he goes about learning in a quick and positive manner.  When you add all these things up, we felt good about teaming with Graham Disher, and we would not hesitate to recommend him for your brewery (once he is finished ours of course).  Get in touch with me if you want to be connected, as he is one of those contractors who is too busy to worry about a website and all that.  In other words, he is hard to find online.

Back to the process of looking for a general contractor.  We met with 4 different GC’s after tossing around the names of about 12 or 15 that were passed our way or in our “rolodex”.  The 4 we met with all had experience, but were all at different stages of their business life cycle.  One company had been around for about 30 years, another just a couple years.  When you meet with these companies you take a list of questions, usually around the process of working with them, budgeting, who is on job, costs, estimates for work, their ideas for your job, experience in this field, etc.  When you start asking questions you will clearly see that there is a big difference in how each of these guys run their business.  Everything from their presentation, to how they budget, when they invoice, what jobs they sub-out, and so on.

What we came to was a list of pro’s and con’s for each contractor, which you then weigh against all the other factors.  Big ones for us include:  What is their mark-up, when could they start, who is going to be site supervisor, how much time are they going to dedicate, how many other jobs do they have, what is their crew like, what is their vision for the project,  what is their timeframe, what are the biggest challenges and how will they overcome, how are they with change … you get the drift.

As for subcontractors, this is really a 2 step process.  The first is to meet with various sub trades that are going to be important to your job.  Likely you will meet with electrical and mechanical  trades people.  You will also do this with the help of your general contractor.   The first objective of meeting with them is to understand what changes you can make to your plans to save money, while at the same time meeting with them to understand who is going to be the best fit for your project.  We met with 4 or 5 electrical and 4 or 5 mechanical contractors.  That allowed us to get some feedback and gauge who was going to work within our constraints the best.  Usually you are basing discussions off a set of drawings that aren’t yet complete.

Hopefully soon after this you will get some IFC drawings for the build-out, and then you can distribute to the 2 or 3 sub-trades that you think would be the best fit.  Once you get the estimates back, you can play them however you like, to try and get a better deal and position the job in the best position for your interests.  For us, number one was not money believe it or not … it was time.  Who could get started and complete the job (in other words, who could dedicate the most manpower to this job) in a fair period of time.  Second was money for us.  Of course all the companies we met with had the proper experience and were keen to be a part of this … that was just standard.

We picked our Electrical Contractor – Clear Energy Solutions.  They have solution in their name for a reason.  They offered us great advice on what to change and what could be streamlined to save money and time.  I would highly recommend these guys to  be at least a part of the bidding process.

We picked our Mechanical Contractor – Nathan from Meridian.  They are a great outfit that has experience in residential and commercial work, they were willing to work with our timeline and they were excellent on price.  I would also recommend these guys to anyone else for all their mechanical needs.

If you want more information on any of this stuff, let me know and I would be happy to add to the information I have put out there.  Bottom line, there are lots of great companies and lots of bad companies and general contractors to work with, just make sure you take your time to make the right choice.  Saving a little money won’t seem worth it if you have to spend extra time on a project.