Vancouver importer specializes in handcrafted Mexican stone
Several years after Karina Eva arrived in Vancouver from Mexico in 2000, she launched a small business using the talents of people she’d worked with many years before: manufacturers in her native country who used natural stone.
The idea was to reconnect with them and sell hand worked Mexican stone for use in high-end homes and renovations in British Columbia.
“I put up a simple website (in 2009) about the product and photos to see if anybody liked it,” said Eva, who with her Canadian husband Matthew Cherris, owns Delta-based Amando Natural Stone. It was just an idea, just to see if anybody would like what we had. I didn’t have any inventory or anything. But that’s how I got my first client.”
Today, Amando does about 15 projects a year — some worth up to $80,000, including such things as fireplaces, mouldings and elaborate columns and fountains, in scores of colours. All are handcrafted in Mexico and shipped to Canada in custom-cut pieces for assembly.
Her products are unique, and they’re not cheap. A custom-designed fireplace, for example, could set a client back by up to $15,000 depending on the carving, detail and type of stone used.
She sells her product as far afield as Ontario and California.
Before immigrating to Canada, Eva’s work in information technology put her in touch with many of Mexico’s natural stone producers. After gaining Canadian residency, she contacted them again — this time to import their product.
“I went back to Mexico after I got my (Canadian) residency,” said Eva. “I reconnected with them. I thought I could leverage that and my language, connections and background were put to work. I also helped them digitalize their inventory, their products and documents and invoices.
“I also researched how to import the product, the customs procedures, transportation, etc. And I partnered with a mason here.
“We carry different stones from different parts of Mexico,” she added. “I thought there was nothing like it here. I looked everywhere and I all I saw was grey stone and white stone. Mexican stones are different colours: green, black, brown, almost purple.”
Eva, who operates her business out of a home office, mostly does installations at homes but has done some for businesses.
“It could be a feature wall, flooring, architectural features like fireplaces, columns. They’re all handcrafted in Mexico.”
The Mexican stone — which includes cantera, limestone, marble, travertine and onyx — has many uses including flooring, custom columns and balustrade systems, pots and planters, onyx lamps, backsplashes, sinks, coffee tables, benches, sculptures, even mailboxes.
Natural stone varies in shade from light to dark with inconsistent veining. The stone varies from quarry to quarry with no two stones alike, Eva said.
Because of these characteristics, it’s typically a bigger investment than other finishing materials.
Cantera stone, for example, is quarried in several regions in southern Mexico. Strong but lightweight, it’s found naturally in a wide variety of colours and textures. Cantera stone products have lasted for centuries without deterioration. One of the world’s finest examples of Cantera stone masonry is the Zacatecas Cathedral, built in the 16th century.
Eva has no employees, instead of working with independent masons, contractors and designers. “We’re mobile. I go to my clients. If someone has an idea, they forward me the blueprints or plans and I take it from there.”
Her website is here.
Eva said that her first year in business was difficult because of the economy, but sales have improved.
“Last year, we had about 15 jobs. Some jobs include the renovation of an entire home, which could cost $80,000 for mouldings, columns and other architectural features.
“Now, I’m working on a new home in Richmond, with mouldings around windows, trimming, possibly a fireplace.”
Eva said that Metro Vancouver’s hot real estate market has been challenging because it can leave little in people’s budgets for renovations. “We only work with people looking for natural stone. But there are many options in the market and (many people) look for cheaper alternatives.”
Eva hopes to ramp up sales across Canada and south of the border, where she believes clients are very amenable to natural stone features.
Her main recommendation for aspiring entrepreneurs?
“Ask for help. Find good mentors who can help you grow your business in the beginning. You need a lot of motivation for the first year, so find people who can help you with growth and all your ideas, people you can bounce ideas off.”