Tag Archives: Tasting Room

The toll this brewery is taking on me

There are so many amazing parts to starting your own business.  Things like never having a boss again, being able to build a business and brand, making choices based on your own preferences and opinions, and how every day is a new and amazing adventure.  These are experiences beyond words and they have helped to make the process of starting a craft brewery all that you think it would be.  The other side of this equation involves many other experiences and instances that are less than glamorous, or things that become worse through this process.

One of these things is the relationship you have with family and friends.  It is not that the business directly effects these relationships, rather the extra time and attention starting a business takes will eat into the amount of time you have for those close to you.  It is a slippery slope to walk, and one that you will often find yourself on the wrong side of.  There are many ways to get back to the other side, but it takes ingenuity and changing the established patterns you have …. and lots of coffee.

For me family is everything.  I love spending time with my wife and kids.  For the most part it is a release from the challenges and grind that makes up starting a business.  However, that can become a challenge when you have a list of 40 or 50 hours of work sitting on your desk.  Things like entering information into Quickbooks, marketing, ordering equipment, budget revisions, brewhouse work, manual labour, meeting with trades people, and even writing this blog.  All these things help to chip away at any sense of release you can enjoy when not at your desk.  In other words, your mind starts to wander when you let it, when sometimes what you need is to forget about the business.  That is always easier said than done.

Starting a brewery also means that you have a LOT less time for family and friends.  Saturdays become work days, early mornings are the domain of getting to-do’s checked off your list and late nights are for preparing for the following day.  Sitting with my wife watching a little TV, figuring out who is working when, or even talking about life seems like something we rarely do anymore.  Life is busy enough with all that is going on, but to think how much time I have taken away from focusing on my life partner is a little alarming.  Same goes for my kids.  I have been accustomed to being there for my kids over the past 7 years.  I pride myself on coaching their sports teams, dropping off and picking up them from school, and helping with the myriad of chores around the house.  All of these things become much harder to do when you are focusing on your selfish dreams.

This selfishness is something we all deal with at some point.  Maybe you are looking for additional work to pay off some bills, or you are back in school trying to get a degree, or maybe you are starting a brewery!  No matter how you break it down, being selfish results in different things at different times in your life.  When you are in your 20’s, focusing on yourself is a lot easier that your 30’s, when family becomes a (really good) drain on your time.  Now that Iain and I are into our early 40’s, the lack of time for family and friends is only made worse by a lack of energy.

So with all this in mind, I should officially take this forum to apologize to my dear family and my amazing friends.  I am sorry that you don’t see me as much, or hear from me as much as you have in the past.  Or when I am around I might be distracted or preoccupied with thoughts of my life.  Just know that during this chapter of my life, my focus has changed and that I hope balance and normalcy will return one day.  Until then, maybe tell me to lighten up or crack a joke when you can, it will help me be in the moment.

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.

 

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.

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.