How My Grandfather's Carving Skills Helped Me Build A $10K/Month Stone Artwork Business

Published: May 18th, 2023
Jack Gao
Founder, Marblebee Ltd
Marblebee Ltd
from Toronto, ON, Canada
started January 2020
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Hello! Who are you, and what business did you start?

Hello! My name is Jack Gao, and I’m the Founder & CEO of MarbleBee. We are a manufacturer of natural stone carving products. From a piece of inspirational marble statue to a large magnificent fountain, from a luxury marble bathtub to stone carving decoration for a grand church, MarbleBee is the one-stop shop to bring stone artworks to reality.

We can customize designs out of natural stone - marble, granite, limestone, travertine, etc. Therefore, we have various kinds of stone products.

I’d like to introduce two types of our flagship products. One type of product is indoor stone products like bathtubs and fireplace mantels. The other type is garden decoration products like stone fountains, benches, gazebos, columns, statues, etc. These two types of products lead us to our potential customers, who can be individual buyers like homeowners and business prospects like interior designers, contractors, and builders.

In the past two decades, we have become the most experienced supplier in designing and manufacturing marble bathtubs and sculptures. We have established long-term cooperation with interior designers, contractors, and builders in over 20 countries and served hundreds of homeowners. We have constantly received feedback from our customers about the complementary comments they have received from their family members and friends.


What's your backstory, and how did you come up with the idea?

I have been an entrepreneur since I was a kid. When I was seven years old, I started selling ice pops on the street. When I was in high school, I was ordering basketball clothes for students. In college, I provided a transportation service for students and earned my tuition. Besides the entrepreneurship embedded in me, I started to learn carving skills with my grandfather in my teens.

Knowing the sculptors have to travel hundreds of miles to find a job in the city and leave their children at home alone, I convinced my uncle to invest in a factory in town that brought the parents home. Then I built a team and expanded our business worldwide.

Starting a business is hard, but it could be the best reward for our time and effort.

Before the marble sculpture business, I operated an E-commerce website selling fashion products to individual buyers. It was a successful experience. However, the business model was like a rolling snowball. It was rolling in more and more cash when the snowball was getting bigger.

I had to look for a more sustainable business model as I didn’t have a deep pocket. The idea of a stone carving business came around when I examined my skills. I knew how powerful or joyous a marble sculpture could be, and I had been learning the carving skill with my grandfather since I was a kid.

I thought, why not combine my E-commerce experience with this sculpture business? In addition, it was meant to bring the parents back home to the children if our business survived.

Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.

In 2004 we started designing decorative products for interiors. Among them, the marble bathtub became the center of our discussion. At that time, there were no marble bathtubs on the market.

If you search for marble bathtubs, you'll probably only see two-thousand-year-old tubs on display in museums. But my intuition tells me that a bathtub decorated with patterns of natural materials must be a beautiful work of art.

We began to design marble tubs in 2004. Our first order was from a return customer in Denmark. She is an interior designer and passionate about her design. She found us on Alibaba's online platform in 1998 to purchase a kitchen countertop.

Then in 2004, when she found out we had listed a marble bathtub on our website, she asked about it. So I brought this idea and prototyped it to her. By the time she received the actual big marble bathtub, she was surprised and excited about the tub.

She told us all of her clients were amazed by the beautiful bathtubs! The clients she designed the tub for are incredibly proud of their bathrooms after installation. We launched our marble bathtub series within one year with her first order. It contained a variety of natural stone colors.

When we are living in a digital age, online marketing is a crucial part of all kinds of business.

From Black granite and Italian Carrara white marble to Egyptian beige stone. Our designers were so proud of their designs that our customers benefited from more natural materials and colors.


Describe the process of launching the business.

During the first two years, I traveled a lot to visit mines and stone block dealers, learning different stone materials and building connections. On top of that, I attended many conferences and consulted with friends and mentors who helped me a lot with the aspect of marketing and managing.

We hired three full-time sculptors in the first year, 5 in the second year, and 12 in the third year. In the marble sculpting industry, skills are usually built through real-time experiences. Even with the highest talent, a sculptor must have at least ten years of practical experience.

The lucky part is that In the area where our workshop is located, there is one of the most significant sculpture cultures in China, and one of the best sculpting schools is also there. So we could find the best sculptors to help us to achieve our high standards.

We established our marketing team in the 5th year of operation and started exporting business. Until now we have over 60 employees and 60% of them have worked with us for over ten years.

When we established our marketing team in the fifth year of operation, we started seeing more customers visiting our website and opening the door to the global market. I borrowed some money from my parents to co-found our factory, “New Home Stone.” We were profitable from day one of operation, allowing me to repay the loan three years later.

At the beginning of the five years operation, we committed most of our time to product development, quality control, and work progress designing. This strengthened our abilities when working on large projects in the following years. However, in hindsight, we might grow faster if we set up our marketing strategy earlier.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

At the beginning of the business, we focused on our sculptures and natural stone materials. For the first six months, the sales didn't surprise us. We were profitable initially because of our skills, but our sales growth has also encountered a bottleneck period.

Then we were introduced to a marketing company that helped us design new websites, refine all the product photos, and create our brand image. As time goes by, we become increasingly aware of the importance of marketing and branding. We began to establish our marketing department. We are lucky to hire an experiential marketing manager on our third try, and she established a strong marketing team in-house for us.

When we are living in a digital age, online marketing is a crucial part of all kinds of business.

Not surprisingly, for a team of sculptors who hand-carved marble art, we also need a strong team of digital marketing. We must pay attention to social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

We also have yearly SEO and email marketing plans for our website. We have weekly meetings organized to connect different departments. We have our sculptors tell their real-time work experience, the sales department share their perspectives from talking to other clients, then our writers and editors will seek potential topics to write and public. This is our SEO strategy.

Our marketing goal is to expose ourselves to interior design and architecture as much as possible. We could begin to establish a long-term work relationship with those professionals. Due to our marketing strategy, this works well.

How are you doing today, and what does the future look like?

After surviving the Covid19 years, Marblebee is embracing a golden period of growth. Our website traffic has grown ten times since the end of Covid19, from 200 to 2K monthly. We believe this number will keep growing at a fast speed due to the effort of our marketing team.

So far, 50% of our business is from websites, and the other 50% came from builders and internal designers who have been working with us for the past 20 years. To expand our brand, we plan to open a showroom in Toronto in the next five years.


Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

The valuable lesson we gained from starting a business in North America is that you should have your marketing team. We have tried to outsource our marketing to some other agents, and they also did a good job, but marketing is like an elite army for any business.

For a small business, marketing strategy and a reliable team is the most important department of your company. We had invested too much time and money in our production and design, but we had not put enough effort into marketing. After we adjusted our marketing strategy in 2022, we saw how much change it has brought us, and we look forward to seeing more.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We are using Shopify to host our website. Due to the particularity of our product, we have to give up the mighty shipping advantage of Shopify and use shipping by sea. The platform is high-speed and stable. It saved us energy to maintain our server. Another benefit of using this platform is that you can choose small apps to help your business grow.

For example, our favorite app on Shopify is Judge. me. This tool became the best channel between our clients and our brand. We received feedback and reviews from our previous clients, so we could improve ourselves and communicate with our clients more.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

The most influential book to me is Principle by Ray Dalio. Even though the book is not related to our product or even close to our industry, it is written by a financial predator. But I see some similarities in the core value of Marblebee. For example, principles are fundamental to me and our company culture.

For example, in his book, he values mistakes. He examines every mistake he makes and improves himself on the mistakes. This principle is my favorite because we are doing the same thing. I remember one of our mistakes in 2022 when an interior designer discovered his long-waiting marble fountains were broken during shipping.

After we worked overtime and customized another one for him, we met with all the departments, the meeting was to face the mistake and try to find out why it happened and how to avoid it in the future. After I collected the ideas and opinions of people from six departments, we adopted a series of measures, and thus we are very confident about our package method and shipping method.

We always have our mission in our hearts while carving every marble art piece. Marblebee is not going to be another cookie-cutter business only chasing profit. We want to create a channel connecting every art lover, designer, and craftsman.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to start or are just starting?

If you are thinking about starting your own business and making your ideas true, I’d say do it right now. Starting a business is hard, but it could be the best reward for our time and effort.

Being an entrepreneur is like jumping from an airplane without your parachute. You will begin a series of self-help measures when you realize you have not had the parachute while dropping.

You will seize every second to learn, think, and apply. You will suddenly find yourself an extrovert, even though you are an introvert. But you will find the way, you will find a way to assemble a parachute for yourself from spare parts while you are falling from the sky. Then, when you have your first parachute, you will enjoy a beautiful view up there.

Where can we go to learn more?