By Stefanie Jackson – The COVID-19 pandemic opened doors for a local custom cabinetmaker who is using technology to design and make products more quickly and efficiently, reach a broader customer base, and imagine the possibilities for the future growth and development of his business.
Chris Ballard grew up on the Eastern Shore and is now operating Ballard Built custom cabinetry in Willis Wharf on property that has been in his family for many years.
He was a contractor who worked in Baltimore, Md., and Washington, D.C., but returned to the Shore in 2011, during the Great Recession, to start his own business.
Ballard began by working on bathroom remodels out of an old garage, and he founded Ballard Built in 2020. Today his team works in a newly built shop just off Ballard Drive, near Exmore.
2020 was a tough year for businesses, many of which closed either temporarily or permanently during the COVID-19 pandemic, including Exmore’s The GIG, a coworking and entrepreneurial center.
Kerry Binard, formerly Kerry Kobe, has experience in corporate technology leadership and worked for The GIG prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ballard worked on renovations at Binard’s family home and she thought he was a “real craftsman.” She was working for her own business, Sweet Sanity, focusing on home design and organization.
The two formed a business partnership after Ballard purchased a brand-new piece of high-tech equipment but lacked the technical knowledge to program the software that operates it.
American company ShopSabre built the machine, a computer numerical control or CNC router, which not only performs the tasks of several carpentry shop machines but is automated, cutting and shaping wood or other materials according to a specific design by following a series of commands programmed into a computer.
The high-tech machine does practically everything except place the material to be cut on the table. It has a pump so strong it pulls a vacuum through a solid board, making it impossible for the material to shift while it’s being cut.
Binard does the coding on her laptop and sends it to the ShopSabre computer, which tells the machine what to do.
When the ShopSabre computer receives a job, it optimizes the layout of the pieces to be cut out of the wood – fitting everything together like a puzzle – to minimize waste.
Binard said that last year, “when the whole world was isolating,” she and Ballard were isolating – she was learning new software and Ballard was building the shop.
Binard has redoubled her efforts learning software over the last year. Not only has she been working with Mosaic – the program that controls the ShopSabre machine – she also has been teaching herself 3D design.
Homeowners who are renovating often seek professional assistance when they “get stuck” while designing their project because they can’t visualize the end result and how all the elements of their bathroom or kitchen will fit together.
The 3D design software can give clients a realistic picture of how the finished room will look and show them how to maximize the space.
In the field of professional design, the ability to create 3D renderings is necessary to stay competitive.
“The whole world is doing 3D …” even kids who play Minecraft. “Why can’t we do that in Exmore?” Binard asked herself.
Designing a kitchen is one thing, but making a robot work is another, she said. Binard spends a lot time writing code, but the high-quality, precision results are worth the effort.
Ballard described his experience using the ShopSabre machine to make custom cabinets for clients in Chicago. (Binard also has worked to create on online presence for Ballard Built and broaden its customer base.) Ballard never visited the home or met the Chicago clients, who hired a contractor to install the cabinets, but “it was perfect,” he said of the result.
But Ballard doesn’t want to stop at making custom cabinets. He wants to expand his business, taking full advantage of the ShopSabre router’s speed, precision, and efficiency, hopefully creating good jobs for high school and college graduates who want to learn the technology, Ballard said.
He and Binard are working on ideas for new products, inspired by the internet success stories of artists and artisans who have built highly profitable businesses by working out of their living rooms and garages and selling their creations on Etsy or a similar website.
Ballard wants to have a showroom for his products one day, but for now, potential clients can visit the Ballard Built website at https://www.ballardbuiltva.com/projects/ and view the photo gallery.
Click on the photo below to view it in full size.