Tag Archives: Tasting Room

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.

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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Success … Building Permit has been Granted!

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

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

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

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

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

The cat is out the bag ….

For those of you who want to know a few more of the details about what is happening with our brewery, Jan Zeschky (The Province Newspapers most excellent food and beer writer) has released an updated guide for new breweries planning to open in 2014.  The article shows there are 19 new breweries that plan on opening their doors this year alone!  All are in various stages of development, and it means that this year will be a banner year for new breweries in this amazing province.  For a full read of this article, click here.

While this is really exciting for the beer drinks of this province, and it will likely cement British Columbia as the beer capital of Canada, it also adds a whole new dimension of stress.  If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I wrote about all the various kinds of stress you feel in opening a brewery.  Click here for a link to this post.  Well, now we can add another type of stress to the mix:  Why would someone pick my beer over all these other great options?  Seriously!  We plan on making good beer, but don’t all of these other breweries as well.  We are nice guys, but aren’t all these other breweries as well.  We plan on having a cool tasting room, but so does everyone else right.  You can see why there is a little stress in my mind!

Another question you ask yourself, and not that the answer really matters, but is anyone else going through similar stress and anxiety ?  I see all of these pictures and posts of people smiling and having fun, and I think how come I up neck deep in stress and work, and everyone else looks so happy?  I guess some days you doubt yourself as this process really sticks it to you.  I find it important to grind through the days that are a challenge and savour the days that are a success.  The reality is that sometimes you feel like you are all alone!

At any rate, I digress.  We are really excited to be a part of the surging craft beer scene in BC, and I hope that we can add value both in terms of our beer, and in terms of the information we provide to the general public.  I hope this blog has inspired some people to dream, and for others I hope it has saved them a bucket of money on mistakes.

Finish of the Tasting Room

So I received some amazing feedback from readers on what is important in a tasting room layout, and key attributes of the space.  It has proved very helpful in helping to construct a space that meets the desires or craft beer enthusiasts and also those who will be visiting our space.  However, the progress we have made has naturally led to another huge question:  What do you want in the finishing of the space?

Does an ultra modern space like 33 Acres go over well, or would you prefer a look and feel like Brassneck.  Are there other tasting rooms outside of Vancouver and BC that stick out for you?  Tell me what you would like to see?

  • Minimalistic/Stark
  • Traditional
  • Modern
  • Ornate
  • Made to feel like a bar
  • Left to feel like a warehouse
  • Repurposed materials

More than talking about our space, I would love to know what other restaurants, bars, and spaces in Vancouver you like.  Of course our space will have a personality of its own, but we are keen to know what direction you think we should go with the finish.  As always, thanks for the thought and the feedback.

Tasting Room Feedback Please

We are in the middle of planning the exact layout and functionality of our tasting room for the brewery.  There are a lot of variables that go into the fit and finish of the space, not the least of which is the experience of all our supporters/patrons.  A close second would be the amount of money we have left over at the end of this process to finish the space.  As such, and likely because you have more experience than anyone visiting tasting rooms in Vancouver and beyond, we want your feedback and help so that we build a functional, interesting and immersive space the first time around.

So given this, please pass along your feedback.  You can send it directly to me at startingacraftbrewery@gmail.com or you can post a comment below.  I want to know everything!  The good, the bad and the ugly on anything and everything.  If you need some help with what we are looking for, here are some items we are looking to get feedback around (don’t feel limited by my list, you can push any information you think is relevant our way):

  • How much separation between tasting room and brewery: Brick wall, no wall, or glass window, etc.
  • What kind of seating do you want:  Bench, smaller tables, long communal tables, bar seating, lots of standing room areas, etc
  • Do you want TV’s?
  • What do you want to see on the walls?  Artwork, Descriptions of the brewery equipment?
  • What works and doesn’t work in a growler fill area?
  • Would separate bars for Growler and Tasting Room sales be a good thing?
  • What are best practices for growler fill areas?
  • What is the average price of growler fills and pints in the tasting room out there?
  • What kind of food would you want to see on a menu given there would be a very limited kitchen?
  • Would you want pre-filled growlers so you could just switch your empty out for a new one, making your stay very quick?
  • What would your expectations be around brewery tours?
  • Do you care about the details/finishing of the space?  Concrete floors OK, if we are broke are picnic tables OK, etc?  In other words does a tasting finished like P49 matter versus one finished like 33 Acres?
  • Anything else come to mind?  I want to hear it.

So that is it.  In the future, we are likely going to hold another focus group on a bunch of stuff around our space, and what we learn from your feedback now will help set the stage for that.  Thanks for our help and feedback, it means more to me than you can imagine.

The Biggest day in this Process – Lease Signing Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for the Support

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

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

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

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

Finally, answers to our Electrical Nightmare ….

I have begun to realize that not everyone who is helping to get this brewery off the ground is willing to work until 2am, or makes this job the sole focus on their day.  In other words, answers that I expect within a couple weeks, sometimes take the better part of a month.  Sometimes these answers are not needed, so the time to get a response is not important.  But it seems like we need most of these answers in a timely fashion, and they set in motion a cascade of changes elsewhere, and each successive change is just as important as the last.

One of these huge considerations is the electrical issues for our space.  I have blogged about it, and it seems like we have been close to an answer for the past few weeks.  This is likely the biggest and most important answer we have been waiting for throughout this process, as our decision to lease the space rests on the advice and information we gather.  A bill of under $100,000 and we are golden to carry on.  Anything over this and we have a tough decision to make, and anything well over this means our dream is going to be dead in the water.  Additionally, we have already extended our contract to lease our space with the landlord past what we agreed to.  We were supposed to give our landlord an answer if we wanted the space by the end of November and we asked for a month extension, given the electrical issues and the lack of an answer around our Development Permit.

So here we are at this point.  We have 2 weeks to decide if we want the space, as the landlord requires an answer by the first week of January.  We have received our development permit from the City of Vancouver, so we are able to brew beer in this space.  We need to submit our building permit drawings to the City of Vancouver, and we need to find a solution to the lack of electrical power our space has.

Well as of yesterday, we found a solution to our electrical problem.  It looks like we are going to cut the power to the whole building, and re-run new power that will be sufficient for everyone, including our brewery.  This means that instead of getting a bill for well over $100,000, we should now come in around $60,000-$80,000 on this fix.  We are still a little upset by the amount we have to spend, but it beats the alternative, which is a pad mounted transformer, and the cost of which is about $250,000.

This means that all we have to do is hammer out the final details of our lease with the landlord, and we are going to lease this space.  I can’t actually believe this is about to happen!  Its almost like I have to pinch myself.  I know there are a few key points to be ironed out with the landlord, like tenant versus landlord improvements, personal guarantee (not unlike a kick to family jewels) length, but most of the important items have already been agreed upon.  In fact, our landlord has been very helpful and accommodating in working with our needs and challenges.  While his patience has started to wear thin, we hope that he still wants to complete a deal with us, and dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.

I don’t want to get ahead of things, so I will leave our latest bit of good news at that.  I have learned from my mentors and peers that a deal is not done until you get a key to the front door, so I will not presume anything.  What I do know is this:  The lows we felt about things after our floor issues popped up, and then our electrical issues came to the front, have all been offset by the development permit we received, and then the answers around the electrical.

With any luck, we will have a firm deal in early January, submit our building permit application in 8 days, and start working on our brewery sometime in early March.  Should all this come together as we hope, we should be open for business sometime in August 2014.  Thats right, in about 8 months our brewery will be producing beer and slinging it to eager locals before you know it.

Given the amount of work to do, and the mountain we need to climb in order to get everything ready, I am going to take this Christmas break to relax and enjoy some time with my family.  The way things are shaping up, I may not see to much of them from February to August of next year.  Happy holidays to everyone that reads this blog and I hope you have a fantastic end to 2013.