A systematic approach - Irons in the fire

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"We allow our employees a lot of freedom to work around their children's schedules and personal matters. We have a whole shop stereo surround sound system and a big TV up on the wall. It's nice to watch the news in the morning and keep up with important current events, such as a hurricane or space shuttle launch. It allows us to not feel isolated from the world."

The shop's finisher, Angie Valdez, has 15 years of experience and has taken the shop to a new level, Ward says. Then there's the three D's: Don, Don and Denny. Dennis Taylor is a woodcarver and artist, and understands the 32mm system inside out. Shop foreman Donald Keene owned a woodworking shop for 20 years and is always anxious to get the job done. Donald Gregory is an experienced woodworker who is constantly building jigs, carts and drawers.

Ward's son Eric, 21, keeps the computer systems running and maintains the Web site. "He's also a Microvellum expert," says his proud papa. "He designs specific cabinets from the ground up and they become part of our standard library. Eric also has the uncanny ability to figure out what's wrong with the machines when they go down. He is a super people-person and our clients can't believe how mature he is for his age.

"Bryan, my oldest son, has gone a different route pursuing Internet Web marketing and Web radio as his passion. I'm hoping in the future he will be involved in marketing our products."

Irons in the fire
Ward has work lined up well through the end of the year and expects the business to grow by leaps and bounds. Son Eric is currently working on a catalog to sell products wholesale, but the difficult part is deciding on what products to offer as "standard" and what to offer as an "upgrade." An upgrade, for example, might be a cabinet that has a soft closer on the door or drawer.

"Our plan is to be a semi-custom cabinet manufacturer," he says. "We will have a catalog and a Web site [where] you can place an order and the information will be directly downloaded into our Microvellum program through Selling Point. It will be then processed for machining and all the information sent to the shop for processing."

Also in the works is a closet division. Ward now sells all-wood cabinets and closet products through a local business, Kitchens & Stuff. He's also hired a bookkeeper who will be trained as a salesperson for his closet work.

"We have recently contracted with a local trim carpenter/onsite cabinetmaker to sell and install our cabinets," Ward says. "I feel pretty confident that in the near future, with a catalog, we will be more in manufacturing and [doing] less installing. Just in the last two months we have seen more local interest than we ever had before. The local builders and a lot of local shops don't have any work, and some are even dead, so to have all this work coming in is just fantastic. We look forward to a really good year."

Ward says there's a good chance he'll build homes again someday. He aims to build A Ward Design to a point at which he can sell it; maybe turn it into an employee owned-company or let one of his two sons run it.

"I always want to be a part of this because this is in my blood, but I really enjoy building houses. I'm very passionate about cabinetmaking and I hope that if I start building homes again I can incorporate our style of woodworking into the new homes in a way nobody else is doing. I would like to build a smaller house with extraordinary woodwork to attract a would-be buyer."