We naively thought going into this venture that finding a property would be one of the easiest tasks.
But as we mentioned in an earlier blog post, one of the things that consumed the most time was hunting for the perfect space to build our Cabin.
Even after we were warned early on that nailing down a property would be much harder than we expected (as I shared my fear that raising the money we needed would be difficult with Andrew Bullied from Annex Ale Project, he said “raising money won’t be the problem - finding a property will be”) it still came a surprise to us. Oh, how innocent we were…
Raising money was painful for reasons we’ll get into in a separate blog post, but securing a property was a much more tumultuous, time-consuming, heart-breaking ordeal that at times had us wondering whether we would ever see our Cabin built.
There were many reasons as to why this was difficult, but the main reason was pretty simple. Think of it this way; if you owned a commercial property that made you money, would you sign it over on a five to 10-year lease to a bunch of bright eyed brewers with no business track record, just so they could knock down office walls, rip out your existing infrastructure, dig up the floor, punch a dozen holes in the ceiling and annoy all your other tenants with months of drilling and grinding? No, neither would we.
We decided early on we needed expert help, so we enlisted the services of Michael Massing and Patrick Sailer of Colliers International. Ben Leon from The Dandy Brewing Company recommended him to us. These guys have placed a bunch of breweries into properties in the Calgary market (including brewing behemoth in the making Tool Shed Brewing). That was important to us, because they already had a base understanding of what a brewery looks for in a property.
A brewery’s needs are very specific - you need high ceilings to accommodate fermentation tanks, as big a water supply line as possible, ample electrical supply, a loading dock, a solid floor in order to bear the weight of the various pieces of brewing equipment, and it needs to be zoned to accommodate a brewery (which in Calgary falls under the Industrial – General classification for breweries and distilleries as a permitted activity) or be able to be accommodated as a discretionary activity.
We met with Patrick and Michael in their offices in February 2017 to begin the process – no formal agreement was signed, just a handshake and a verbal agreement that they would work for us to find a property, and we should work through them and have them represent us if we found a property on our own behalf. Fifteen months later, we met Patrick at Dandy Brewing Company to have a beer and execute our final lease for 505 36 Ave SE – a small industrial bay of 3,600 sq. ft, smack dab in the middle of The Barley Belt. We had done it. This photo captures our feelings of excitement, relief and sheer terror perfectly.
Of course, I just fast-forwarded through all the juicy bits. A lot happened in those 15 months. From the time we met with Patrick and Michael to the day we signed our lease, we had considered well over a hundred properties, toured more than a dozen and made formal written offers on three of them.
We had a list of features that we wanted for our brewery location that helped guide our selection process. In no particular order it was:
· Somewhere south of the river, as close to downtown as possible
· A good price
· Room for expansion
· Close to public transit
· Close to other breweries to form a “hub”
· In the Car 2 Go zone
· Space for a patio
· Minimum 200 amp power
· Minimum 1 inch water line
· 18 foot ceilings
Trying to tick off as many of those means we simply said no to a whole lot of properties. When the occasional building came up that was worth chasing, the race was on! I say that somewhat ironically, as the process of securing an industrial lease compared to buying a residential property is painfully slow – weeks, or even months, instead of hours.
That long process makes it that much harder when you don’t get the property you want. It’s heart-wrenching.
When you make an offer to sign away up to 10 years of your life to a location, you become strangely invested, personally and emotionally. You start visualizing your business. You dream about it at night. You make plans. You tell your friends. You begin to line up all the other professionals that you need to get your brewery built - contractor, architect, engineers. You lie in bed at night throwing around ideas about the layout of the taproom and how you will use the area outside.
When the bad news came - in our case, Patrick would call me to break the news and I’d let the other guys know - you’d swear, spend a night in quiet mourning, then begin anew scouring an updated set of listings.
In hindsight, there were several things we could have done differently; firstly, we went into negotiations with a lot more confidence that we had any right to possess. We were bottom of the ladder, but acted as if we were kings.
Our list of demands on landlords were high, our offers low. It became clear that this tactic was a massive turnoff to landlords, who by and large just want a secure tenant that will go about their business and pay their rent every month, with minimal work imposed on them.
By the time we lost our third property, with no decent alternatives in sight, we ended up following the classic “location, location, location” advice, compromised on a couple of our demands and chased what was akin to the worst property on the best street.
Of our list of demands, we got about two thirds of what we wanted. There’s a saying that you can have the right space, in the right location, at the right price - but you can’t have all three at the same time. How true that is.
We now love the space we are in - the location is killer, the space looks incredible and the landlord has been super helpful in getting us settled in and helping us tackle some tricky issues, including getting our power upgraded when it appeared as though we were stuck with lower amperage than we needed to operate.
The size is just right; we’ve ended up with a smaller space than we had originally desired, but in doing so we have created a more secure and more sustainable business model. It’s just across the road from Born Colorado Brewing, half a block from Banded Peak Brewing and right next door to the best neighbours a brewery could ask for, Confluence Distilling. Talk about lucky!
Our Cabin is almost built, and we are so, so in love. We’ll be sharing it with you all shortly, so hang in there.
In our next blog post, we’ll share some more specific tips on how to secure the property of your dreams - or at least get you a few steps along the way in the right direction.