Note from CAS President, Sam Holloway: At CRAFTINGASTRATEGY.COM, we are committed to bringing our members the most relevant, up to date business wisdom. Over the past year, we have realized that our members are great resources of wisdom, and through our guest expert blogs, we can give them a voice. Tom Schmidlin was an incredibly skilled and well-known home brewer in Seattle, Washington. He decided to “Go Pro” almost exactly one year ago. We’ve asked Tom to reflect on his journey and to offer wisdom to our members with breweries in planning. Tom will author four pieces this year, beginning with the current piece: How To Find The Right Space For Your Brewery. This initial blog is publicly available, future blogs will be for CAS members only.
Tom Schmidlin - Member Expert, Brewer and Proprietor, Postdoc Brewing
There is a lot that goes into finding the perfect space for your brewery; it is a process that can take months to years. The first and most important thing to keep in mind is there is no such thing as perfect, each space will have its pros and cons. You may find an awesome space for what you want to do, but with a landlord who wants you to agree to move out with three months’ notice (this actually happened to me).
When you start looking for a space, it is helpful to have a vision for your business. Are you looking to build a production brewery, with any retail sales being incidental? Or do you want to build a brew-pub, where almost everything is retail? Or is it something in between?
In the beginning, I was willing to have my vision fit the space available. Because I was open to a wide variety of business models, I looked at spaces that would make great brewpubs, would be perfect for a mostly production facility, or would combine production with a large tasting room. Since I lacked a partner for the food and thought it would be too much to manage on my own, I soon decided that a brewpub was not for me which helped narrow the search.
Beyond the physical aspects of the space itself, it is critical that you understand the community where you plan to locate your facility. Think about who travels through the area and why they are there. What kind of jobs do they typically have, how much money do they have to spend, and what kind of beer do they like to drink? Consider who your competitors are, and why they are successful or not. Why will people come to your place instead: convenience, better beer, better atmosphere? Will they get to you on foot, bikes, buses, or cars?
The more I looked, my mind coming back to this one area in Redmond that I drove past twice daily on my commute. As it was, there was no place for me to stop for a beer on my way home without going out of my way and fighting traffic one way or the other. It is a relatively small area with high car and bicycle traffic, next to a 640 acre multi-use park, in an area with a lot of high wage earners. With all of that going for it, I decided to focus the search in this area.
Narrowing it down to that vicinity, I felt that a brewery and tasting room would be the best option. Our taproom is essentially a bar serving only our beer, which may not be legal in every state but is common in Washington. This helped further define the requirements. Tasting room means car traffic, so you need to make sure there is adequate parking. Redmond’s building code dictates the number of parking stalls required, so it was easy to figure out if a given space meets that criterion. But we also had to expect truck traffic for deliveries, so the parking lot needs to handle that as well. Obviously there are a lot of things to take into consideration.
Getting a commercial real estate agent was a tremendous help for us. It was in his best interest to help us find the right spot, since he only gets paid if we are able to pay our rent. He was also a great source of knowledge about reasonable lease rates and terms in our area, and knew about spaces coming open before they were actually on the market. He even went so far as to set up meetings with officials he knew in local governments as we tried to decide in which city to locate the brewery. In a competitive real estate environment, having this kind of assistance will help you find a great place for your new brewery.
In my experience, it will be very helpful for you to talk early and often about your plans with the local government. Other than a brief conversation very early on, I did not keep in touch with them or keep them in the loop about what we were trying to do. I knew the area was properly zoned and we should have few hold ups, but I didn’t realize how helpful they could be in the whole process. They were very happy to work with us to make sure that we could do things within budget but also meeting the code. In matters of the building code, it is definitely not a situation where I would ask forgiveness rather than permission.
Hopefully, your relationship with the government is not an adversarial one, and that is from the federal level on down to your local inspectors. They simply have too much power to delay you or shut you down to try to go head to head with them. In some cases they pointed out common mistakes before we made them, which saved us time and money. In other cases we were able to change which section of the code applied to us. In yet other cases they agreed that the code made no sense, however their job is to enforce the code and it is a rare inspector who will take the risk of approving something substandard. I have yet to meet one.
Alcohol businesses are under increased scrutiny compared to your average business. My experience with the city government so far is that if they get the sense that you are trying to do the right thing then they are will do whatever they are allowed to help you be successful. They want our business in town, because it means jobs for the residents, increased traffic to other businesses, and a growing reputation for breweries that will help attract other businesses. All of that translates into increased revenue for the city. Hopefully you can find a welcoming place for your venture.