A systematic approach

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Hoping to capitalize on the void he saw in the central Florida custom cabinetry industry, Kevin Ward established A Ward Design in Winter Haven in 2001.A well-known resident of Winter Haven for more than 30 years, Ward, 47, knows his reputation as a homebuilder gave him a running start in building a clientele. He operates the only custom shop of its kind in his region, producing high-end kitchens, baths, bars and entertainment centers.

Now that he has a handful of skilled employees who know how to use the state-of-the-art equipment in his immaculate shop, Ward spends most of his time in the office, designing custom products on his computer and transferring data to the Weeke CNC router he bought less than two years ago and his four-year-old Holz-Her beam saw.

While he does set foot in the shop to make a part on the CNC from time to time, he enjoys his supervisory role in the office."When you decide to go automated, the work is done in here and not out there," he says from his desk. "I really like drawing in AutoCAD. Drafting was one of my favorite classes in high school. I love designing."

Only 30 minutes from Walt Disney World, Ward lives in the heart of a community saturated with retirees and dotted with homes owned by seasonal vacationers who seek out his meticulous workmanship. His out-of-state clientele is located in the mountain resort areas of western North Carolina. Logistics have kept him from accepting other out-of-state offers up to this point, but with plans in the works for a product catalog, that may change in the near future.

From father to sons

A Ward Design
Location: Winter Haven, Fla.
Owner: Kevin Ward
Number of employees: 5
Years of experience: 26
Size of shop: 6,000 sq.ft.
About: Kevin Ward got a jump start in the cabinetmaking industry by first making a name for himself as a high-end homebuilder. When he decided to venture into business on his own, he taught himself to make frameless cabinets and bought the necessary machinery. He now has a high-tech shop suitable for growth.
Quotable: "My biggest mistake was probably not buying a CNC from the very beginning. If I had to start my cabinet business all over again, and knowing what it is I build in my shop, I probably would have bought a nested-base router and an edgebander as my first two primary pieces of equipment."

Ward grew up in Ohio until the family moved to the Winter Haven area when he was 15. He learned carpentry in high school and from his father, Ray Ward, a custom home builder. In the early '80s he earned his electrical journeyman's license, started his own company and began wiring houses for his father, then switched over to trim carpentry in 1986.

Ward and his brother Roger eventually took over their father's business. As Ward Bros. Construction grew, Ward's role shifted to designing and engineering tasks. In 1989 Ward Bros. split up; Ward's father wanted to retire in North Carolina and Roger moved with him. Ward decided to stay and was hired by his local building supply outlet, Adams Building Supply, to resuscitate its failing cabinetmaking department.

By the late '90s, the housing market in the Winter Haven area was booming, and the supply company decided to strictly sell lumber to accommodate demand. Ward bought the cabinetmaking department and named it Winter Haven Kitchen and Bath. At first, he was basically buying the cabinets from KraftMaid and installing them, adding a few custom touches here and there.

"I just couldn't get what I wanted from KraftMaid and so I started making my own stuff. I sold Winter Haven Kitchen and Bath and started A Ward Design, which was a total custom shop."