'Keep trying': Mexican immigrant finds business success, acceptance in Penticton

'Keep trying. It's worth it.'

“Community Champions” is a media campaign led by the South Okanagan-Similkameen Local Immigration Partnership (SOSLIP) and supported by SOICS & Castanet. We share stories that raise awareness about the contributions that immigrants make to the community while introducing the small businesses of new Canadians.

Around 16 years ago Raul Fernandez and his then-fiancé, now wife, Diana Molina came to Canada from Mexico City with loads of hopes and dreams, and two suitcases.

They started their Canadian journey in Montreal, eventually landing in Penticton, and there have been plenty of challenges along the way.

“I am the middle child. One of the three brothers. When we decided to move to Canada my brothers were opposing a bit, but, being the 'black sheep,' I said I can do it and we are here now,” remembers Raul. “I am creative but I am also very persistent and patient. I keep doing it and doing it until things get resolved.”

Before moving to Canada, Raul worked on a number of art and technology projects and loved 3D design. He received a job offer from a company in Montreal and happily accepted it, as living in Canada was something he wanted to do for quite some time.

At that time the immigration process was a bit easier than today, so within one and half years the couple became permanent residents.

The biggest challenge was learning the language, which Raul and Diana learned “on the street” by listening and practicing, making mistakes and improving.

“Pronunciation is still an issue, but Canadian people are kind. They try to understand and don’t make fun of you. I ask them to correct me because I truly want to learn,” shares Raul.

“Another challenge was to adjust economically. When you come from the country where your currency is much lower, it turns out that the money you bring does not last long. But, on the other hand, the value of the money here allows you to grow faster.”

Besides missing their families, the couple really missed their traditional Mexican food. At that time, there was only one store in Montreal that carried some of the Mexican groceries.

After spending a few months in Montreal, the couple moved to Edmonton, Alta.

“My French is worse than my English, so we decided to move to an English-speaking province,” chuckles Raul.

In Edmonton, Raul and Diana started a family, and a family business. Their daughter Ashley, like her father, loves drafting and design, so the idea for the family business came naturally.

“We wanted a business that our daughter could carry on and enjoy. The printing house made a perfect sense,” shares Raul. The home business grew out of the basement and became quite successful with several schools as customers.

The name of the company “Flatiles Designs” came from one of the first machines that Raul bought. It was able to print on flat surfaces, such as acrylic tiles, which are child and pet friendly as they don’t shatter if they fall.

“I have been an entrepreneur since I was 18. My dad gave me the key to his company, a broom factory, and told me how much money he wanted per month, and I said 'okay.' My friends were hanging out and partying but I already had 30 people on my shoulders, making sure they have income to feed their families. I started helping my dad very early and learned every part of the business starting with cleaning toilets,” Raul says with pride.

Raul’s friend who lives in Penticton had been asking the family to come visit for a long time and finally, they did. They fell in love with the warm weather, lakes and orchards, and decided to move here. Although they relocated during the pandemic, they were still able to bring their business here and make it succeed.

“As a family business, we stand behind our products. If a client needs something very specific, very unique – that’s where we specialize. We work closely with clients every step of the way, and make sure they are happy.”

Raul’s advice to newcomers is to never quit.

“Keep trying. It’s worth it. Set your goals and break them into smaller, short-term goals. This way you can achieve them one by one, and not be overwhelmed.”

Find Flattile Designs in Penticton online here.

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