Tag Archives: Vancouver

Hammering out the Electrical Details … its sometimes a 4 letter word!

Actual Conversation that took place at 9am Friday morning:

Matt: What about the following Electrical items:

8.1c-3, 4.32b-1, 8.0a-9

Iain: Where is that in the plans?

Matt: I can’t find them, do they even exist?

Iain: Here they are. A 5 horse power pump 3 phase 220 volt and 2 outlets

Matt: Those outlets and pump aren’t in my plans

Iain:  They are in my plans, but they are in the wrong spot

Matt: Where is the number for the engineer, I need to call him.

Get used to hearing these kinds of things when it comes to putting electrical infrastructure into your building. The work requires continuous attention to detail, and meetings between your electrician, electrical engineer, general contractor and the end-users (us)! There are lots of false starts and errors, so prepare mentally for this. Getting as much correct as you can early in the process will mean fewer change orders, which ends up saving you a lot of cash.

One of the biggest challenges we have had around the electrical work is the process. It is an inexact science and one that is full of frustration and teeth grinding. The process kind of goes like this:

  1. Pick your equipment and finalize this before anything else can start.
  2. Determine the power needs of that equipment.
  3. This is a chicken or egg thing. On much equipment, you can choose what kind of power it will take, which means you need to know what kind of power you have available. For much of your equipment you can have it made to the power you want to provide.
  4. Convey this information to the architect and electrical engineer who produce drawings for your electrician.
  5. Determining the exact location of the equipment on the floor plan. You need to have this buttoned down, so that all the information can go back up the line to everyone that needs it
  6. Make sure that all this stuff meshes with the latest version of your layout. Sometimes you electrician is working with non-current plans, which means that different tables and arrangements will result in different locations for power needs
  7. Making sure that the workers who are going to do the work know what is going on.
  8. Check back with everyone to make sure that all is ok.

Clearly, this is an inexact process. It is one that seems easy at first, but when you really look at it during the process, it is really hard. Trying to coordinate all of this is so difficult. We have had meetings where people literally leave steaming mad because they have been given the wrong information, or their workers haven’t followed the changes … there is a lot of coordinate.  Moreover, if you get anything wrong in that process you literally need to spend an hour push up and down the line to everyone else, explaining what happened and what the new plan is.

It is also important to get equipment using 600V where possible. In short, using a higher voltage makes electric motors more efficient, as there is less current needed. We are lucky in the sense that we have the power available to do this, after we are spending a bunch of money to upgrade the service from the street.

There is always going to be the stuff that people have overlooked. For instance our electrical engineer missed a couple pumps in our layout, so it was never discussed again until we found this out. When this happens, everyone scrambles to find these on the plans, and when you don’t you start to question what has happened and what you can do.

To help make this process easier, you should always try and work with professionals and engineers who are supreme communicators. You will need to be in constant contact to ensure that everyone is on the same page and everyone within their teams are also on the same page. It also helps that the electricians who are doing the work are committed to the job. If they can’t have someone at the brewery all day 4 days a week, you should look elsewhere.

Don’t forget to plan for power outages, and share the plan for renovations with everyone and every sub-trade. People need to know when power is going to be cut, when deliveries are being made and when floors are being coated. If you don’t coordinate this information, others will waste time and become increasingly frustrated with your job, potentially leading to bad outcomes down the road.

It becomes so apparent through this process that things like the electrical upgrade, floor issues, seismic needs, and sprinkler additions/installation are huge costs and enormous burdens to have to deal with. It is one of the reasons I have always told people who are interested in starting a brewery to make sure you find a space that has some of these things done. You may not be lucky enough to find one with everything completed, but the more of these major items completed, the quicker and cheaper your retrofit will be.

 

 

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.

 

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.

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.

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.