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John Willard has been building cabinets since he was 15 and his cabinetry and millwork shop in California is an up-and-comer

Willard Woodworks produced this game room, featuring distressed alder with raised panel wainscoted walls and coffered ceilings with stamped copper ceiling tiles.

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John Willard started in the woodworking industry at a young age and is relentlessly working his way to the top. He is the owner of Willard Woodworks, located in Norco, Calif., about an hour east of Los Angeles. He has been building cabinets since he was 15 and used his self-acquired skills to establish his custom woodworking business at the ripe age of 21. He may have been a bold entrepreneur, but his early clients were wary of his abilities.

"I'd knock on their door, and they'd want to see this little guy that's balding, who's got a belly, who's got nubs for fingers and leather for hands," says Willard, 40. "I still get that sometimes ... but it's getting better."

Willard has since gained volumes of experience that has reflected positively on his reputation, and he now spends less time convincing clients he's worthy. He and his three employees are busy producing custom cabinetry and millwork for clients in the Greater Los Angeles and Southern California areas, in styles that complement the Mediterranean-style homes widespread in that part of the state.

Willard now grosses an average of $500,000, which has been a steady figure for the last three years. A master at business networking, he exercises efficient marketing techniques such as investing in his Web site to show off his capabilities. And with plans for a new and larger shop down the road, he's still just getting started.

Motivated and driven

Willard grew up in Diamond Bar, Calif., and took four years of shop classes at Diamond Bar High School in order to avoid the alternate requirement of taking a foreign language. He excelled at woodworking, and even earned a cash award through the local Rotary Club because of his achievements. He put the money toward business management courses at a community college. From the time he was 15, Willard worked in a handful of small shops during his summers off from school.

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