Continuing the Legacy: A Q&A with New WMABA President Kris Burton

by Chasidy Rae Sisk

After three years under the leadership of Past President Steve Krieps (Greg Cline Auto Body; Winfield, WV), who bid adieu to his role in last month’s Hammer & Dolly (available at, WMABA has a new head honcho, current President Kris Burton (Rosslyn Auto Body; Alexandria, VA), a dedicated collision industry professional whose affiliation with the association spans more than two decades. 

What can members expect as WMABA moves into this new era? Burton sat down with Hammer & Dolly to help readers get to know him a little better as he shares his thoughts on what he hopes to accomplish as he takes the reins.

Hammer & Dolly: How did you get your start in the collision repair industry?

Kris Burton: I started working in my father’s shop after school while I was still in high school, but after I graduated, I was a typical rebellious 18-year-old who decided this was not the career path I wanted to follow. I moved out and waited tables while attending community college. In the middle of the semester during my third year of college, my dad called me and told me that he needed me to come work in the shop on Monday. I objected, but he had no one to answer the phones because the rest of my family is deaf. I dropped out of school that Friday, went to work for Dad on Monday and have been here ever since, for a little over 20 years. When my dad retired in 2019, I took over running the shop, and I’ve never looked back.

H&D: When and how did you get involved with WMABA?

KB: Since I started working in collision repair in my early 20s, I’ve always read Hammer & Dolly cover to cover; I still do. I realized I didn’t know much, but I believed there had to be a better way to do certain things. One day, I was flipping through the magazine and stopped on the Board of Directors page. At the time, Mike Anderson (Collision Advice) was the president of WMABA, so I picked up the phone and called his shop, Wagonwork Collision. I asked to meet with him, and he agreed to meet me after work one evening. He told me to write down my questions, so I showed up with a yellow legal pad with all kinds of questions – everything from basic car questions and business questions to how to pay people, what types of parts went where and what to paint first. I was so nervous, but Mike took his time answering my questions for a couple hours. It was a really cool experience, and after that, I started attending WMABA’s meetings to learn as much as I possibly could. 

H&D: When you first joined the association, did you have any ambitions of serving on the Board or becoming president? 

KB: Not at all. I was happy being part of an organization filled with so many successful shop owners. When you’re young and impressionable, you’re really just trying to navigate the industry and figure it all out, so I was excited to surround myself with so many active, engaged shops and just absorb all the knowledge and experience they had to offer and were willing to share. 

H&D: So, what convinced you to join the Board and eventually agree to your new role as president?

KB: A year or two after I joined WMABA, Mark Boudreau called me and told me I needed to be at Wagonwork Collision that Saturday morning. I had no idea what was going on, and when I showed up, Mark told me I was the new secretary of WMABA. That’s also when Aaron Schulenburg (Society of Collision Repairs Specialists) was named treasurer, Barry Dorn (Dorn’s Body & Paint; Mechanicsville, VA) became vice president, and Torchy Chandler (Chandler’s Collision Center; Columbia, MD) was chosen as president. I was really honored and appreciative of the faith they put in me. I didn’t know it yet, but it actually was something I really wanted to do. 

This was around 2007, when WMABA made the transition from Sheila Loftus to Jordan Hendler as executive director. I served on the Board for a couple years, but in 2009, my father bought a second shop, and I was so busy and overwhelmed that I decided to relinquish my position. Not long after, someone told me, ‘Everybody is too busy; you have to make time for what’s important.’ That really resonated with me, and luckily, WMABA let me return to my position on the Board.

It’s an even bigger honor to be named president. This association has always had my heart; I wouldn’t be where I am today without WMABA. Being part of this organization has allowed me to develop lasting relationships and make friends that have become like family, and I wouldn’t have them if I hadn’t joined this group. It’s surreal to be named president – I’m just a single shop owner, not a guy with 12 shops, but I believe you get what you put in. Serving on any association’s leadership team is a volunteer position, but it brings me joy and happiness, and I’m excited to see how we grow as we continue passing on WMABA’s legacy to other shops. 

H&D: You also serve on the Board of Directors for the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS). How does your involvement with SCRS and other national organizations benefit WMABA and its members?

KB: It definitely gives me a different perspective of everything happening in the collision repair industry. Unless you’re involved with SCRS, most people don’t really understand the full scope of what they do or the amount of work that has happened, is ongoing and is planned. The amount of change SCRS strives to accomplish for this industry is vast and really impressive, even though it’s not all recognized. It’s amazing what these gentlemen and ladies have been able to achieve along the way. I believe my involvement with SCRS builds another bridge for WMABA and provides another opportunity to help educate other shop owners if they so desire. 

H&D: As WMABA President, what are your top three priorities for the association moving forward?

KB: First and foremost, education – not only from the angle of providing educational opportunities for our members but also by helping to foster strong relationships between the industry and our local vo-tech schools and community colleges. I’m passionate about trying to help open the door for the younger people who want to get into this field. I believe lots of kids want to do what we do. In fact, I know it’s not true when people claim this generation is not interested in auto body work. A lot of them are interested, but they want to feel safe and protected, and they want to work in an environment where it’s okay to fail because that allows them to learn and grow. 

Secondly, I’ve always wanted to improve WMABA’s member engagement. Every association has the same questions: Why don’t the shops show up? How do we get more shops to participate? I hope we can figure out how to get more people in the room and encourage greater involvement from the shops. At the same time, I want to continue focusing on making our events the best they can be for the people who are involved. I never want anyone to feel too intimidated to show up; I want them to call, text or email me or other Board members when they have questions or are facing challenges they’d like advice on. Showing up is the first step to building these relationships. At our meetings, I try to talk to everyone who attends, but if you’re new, please make sure to say hi! We want you to get involved and are looking forward to learning more about what you need to make that happen. 

Lastly, I just want to help the association continue. It’s been around for over 60 years at this point, so I plan to continue that legacy as we grow new relationships and hopefully set us on a path to continue being successful in the future. I’m truly looking forward to it. 

H&D: What do you think are some of the industry’s biggest challenges, and how do you hope to help address them in your new role?

KB: I think some of our biggest challenges come back to education, primarily with educating insurance companies and consumers. As we transition into the complex types of cars that are now finding their way to our shops, we need to recognize all the training and equipment that’s required, and we need to better explain these factors to our customers and the insurance adjusters. The billing practices of yesteryear no longer work; changes are necessary, and better dialogue is needed to bridge that gap. I’m still figuring all these things out myself, but the more people involved in these conversations, the better.

H&D: What advice or encouragement would you offer a fellow shop owner who may be struggling?

KB: Get involved! The first thing to do is reach out and participate in the discussions that are happening. If you’re struggling and need help, staying to yourself is only going to make it worse. Joining an association or just coming to a meeting and staying afterward to talk to other shop owners, introduce yourself, build a relationship…it’ll make a world of difference. WMABA is really fortunate to have Jordan and her team, and they’re very supportive of our members as well; we wouldn’t be where we are today without them. I’d also invite anyone who needs advice or encouragement to reach out to me. I want to help because when one of us succeeds, we all succeed.

Want more? Check out the April 2024 issue of Hammer & Dolly!