Former MABA President Ed Boermeester Relishes in Retirement 

by Alana Quartuccio

New England Automotive Report continues its mission to catch up with the many influential collision repairers who have helped make the industry a better place here in the Commonwealth. This month, we tracked down Ed Boermeester, retired owner of Kingston Auto Body and a former president of the Massachusetts Auto Body Association (MABA), to see what he has been up to since he retired from body shop life. 

New England Automotive Report: When did you first get into the industry? 

Ed Boermeester: I always worked on cars. When I was a kid, I lived around the corner from an auto body shop, and I started sweeping up there and pumping some gas for them. By 1965, I was 14, I had a working certificate, and I started officially working. 

NEAR: Tell me about your shop. How long did you own it?

EB: I opened my shop, Kingston Auto Body, in 1973, and I sold it in 2019. I owned it for 47 years. It was a long time.

NEAR: You have been active with the association over the years. How did you get involved with the association (MABA at the time)? 

EB: There were a bunch of us who would talk about the industry, in general. So, we started up with the association to basically let everyone know what was going in the industry, the trends and where things were going. We’d have seminars and speakers come in, and that is how we stayed in touch with the industry. 

NEAR: Were you an officer of MABA? How long did you serve? 

EB: I was involved with MABA for a good 18 years. I was president for a time. People needed to step up and do it, and I figured I can’t be part of an industry I don’t put anything into it. I really felt there was a necessity to stay current with the automobile changes to better serve the consumer and keep the quality of work up. Most of the members of MABA probably represented the upper crust of the industry who were concerned about doing a good job and doing the right repair. We also wanted the industry to be well, so that meant fighting for legislation. When the Reform Act of 1988 came in under Governor Dukakis, that was a turning point in the industry. We’re one of the only states that regulated to that extent. That was always an ongoing issue with our state and within other states. We were fighting to be able to run a good industry. 

NEAR: Any memorable things from those years you’d like to reflect on? 

EB: I think it was just about keeping the industry at the forefront of legislators’ minds and trying to educate the consumers, as well as the insurance companies, on how a repair should be done and to not shortchange a repair, so to speak. That’s always been a problem. As time went on, the vehicles have become more and more intricate which changed the criteria for the shops. They had to become better equipped to handle these repairs. We hosted a lot of repair seminars, many on new equipment. We had a lot of participation – not only from repair shops but from our suppliers who are a big part of our industry. Trying to keep as many repairers in the loop as possible was one of the greater achievements of the association. 

NEAR: You were involved with MABA when the association merged with Central Mass Auto Rebuilders Association (CMARA) and AASP/MA to become AASP/MA, or the Alliance as we know it today? Can you tell our readers how that came to be?

EB: Like in any war or conflict, you divide and conquer, and that is what the insurance industry was pretty good at doing. At that time, there were three different associations in Massachusetts – AASP, CMARA and MABA. I happened to get into a conversation with an executive secretary from one of the other associations; the third association wanted to be involved as well. The decision to combine into one unit was brought to the Board for a vote. It did create some issues with some shops, but I felt we had a better voice fighting as one group, instead of fighting as three. 

NEAR: When did you decide to retire and why?

EB: I decided to retire about midway through 2019. I had lost my wife in February of that year. We were married for 49 years. I’d really had enough of what I called the “brow beating” and lack of respect that the insurance industry, legislators and – in a lot of cases – the general public had for the blue-collar repair industry. That’s very prominent with the labor reimbursement rate. Cars are getting more difficult to repair; the repairs are getting more intense. Quality repairs require bigger and better equipment, technicians need to have more knowledge, and no shop can really afford to pay new people enough to attract them into the industry. So I retired as I just couldn’t fight the good fight anymore. In all honesty, after 47 years, you get tired, and you run out of zip. You get old, and it’s not an old person’s game. Unfortunately, what’s going to happen – and it’s showing already – is the industry is going to have fewer and fewer qualified repairers. You’re going to wind up with throw-away cars. Look at the length of time it takes to repair a vehicle now. 

Every job was a fight. It shouldn’t be that way. The damage is the damage. It’s there, or it’s not there. It’s pretty simple. But you have the people in control of the purse strings – and I’m not saying they have to have an open door or an open pocketbook – but you still have to repair the car. These cars are way too intricate. There are all these gadgets in the car just muddying the waters of repairing them. People are still backing out of driveways and running over people. I’ve gone through way too many vehicle changes over the years. When I started out in the 1960s, we had muscle cars which we used to repair with lead. We didn’t use plastic as body filler. Now, there are different steels. It just got to be way too much. And if something happens to the vehicle down the road, they expect you to guarantee it. They’ll hang the shop out to dry for repairing the vehicle the way they (insurers) wanted it repaired. So you had non-professional people who do not know how to repair a car dictating how the repair should be done. It’s like having somebody in the surgical room tell the surgeon how to operate. And when the patient dies, they blame the surgeon. It’s the same situation, and it’s getting worse. 

NEAR: Do you think the industry has changed since you stepped away?

EB: Absolutely it’s changed. Unfortunately, the way of conducting business hasn’t changed. Electronics have made processing paperwork faster, which is good. Procuring parts is a little better, as far as getting the right parts, although getting parts to shops has slowed down because most don’t stock them anymore because they are just too expensive. The turnaround time to repair these cars is getting longer and longer, which is a cost. Unfortunately, those paying the bills are cognizant in pointing out how long it takes to repair a vehicle and want to push repairs faster and faster, but you can’t do that as vehicles today are more intricate. And consumers expect more too. They are spending $40,000 to $60,000 on a car, so they expect the repairs to be the quality of $40,000 to $60,000.

NEAR: What do you miss most? Least?

EB: The biggest thing my friends, past customers and family members ask me is whether or not I miss it, and I absolutely do not! My doctors are very happy. My blood pressure is down. My health is better. At my age, I just take one pill a day. A couple of my friends who are also retired say the same thing. One friend kept a hand in the business doing estimates, while the other did what I did and walked away completely. He’s doing the same thing I am, just working around the yard and doing the relaxing things that we were never afforded the privilege of doing when we owned repair facilities because it was 24/7, 52 weeks a year working in the shop. There was always something. That’s not counting the nights of association meetings, expectations of consumers and insurance companies. Enough was enough. 

I believe there’s going to be a shortage of repairers and repair facilities. I spoke to someone recently who had owned several locations and is now retired. He doesn’t miss it all…not one single iota, and he was very successful. The old people are leaving, and the new ones coming in won’t stay for a long time. A lot of regional trade schools are dropping auto body programs. The reason is that people can go to McDonald’s and make more money. That’s sad. It’s sad that you can put someone’s life behind the wheel of a vehicle you repaired which you have to be certified to do, yet you can make more money handing someone a cup of coffee with a lid on it. It’s sad that Massachusetts has one of the lowest reimbursement rates in the country. It’s absolutely criminal. It makes some repairers have to consider the idea of not doing a straight-up job. They have to connive to get paid for every little thing, and it shouldn’t be that way. One shouldn’t have to spend six or seven hours of management time to produce $1,000. I was always a numbers person, but I don’t have to think about that stuff anymore. I got my Social Security. I can live off of it fine because the industry did teach me how to manage money and get the most out of a dollar. 

NEAR: Looking back now, some years removed, what comes to mind when you think about your time in the body shop industry?

EB: I knew I wanted to be in the collision industry because it’s what I went to school for. I graduated in auto body, and I never looked back at that point. I’ve worked on cars my entire life, and I was never without a job.

NEAR: Do you have any hobbies you’d like to share?

EB: I work in my yard and on my house. My grandchildren are older and, along with my daughters and son-in-laws, are my life. The friends I have are very dear to me. I have very few friends as I didn’t have time to make many as I was always working all the time. A lot of shop owners will tell you that’s the case. It’s a very tough industry because you work so much. You find out that the friends you make are your friends when they have an accident but don’t even recognize you when you see them in a restaurant. Your friends are your colleagues in the industry. I am glad I had the run I had in the timeframe I had it, but it was time to leave. 

NEAR: What is the one thing you think you got out of this industry you would not have gotten if you didn’t pick this career?

EB: I’d say what I got out of this industry was how to handle adversity and how to work with go-arounds because it’s not an easy industry to make a living. It used to be a very highly respected industry, but it has not stayed that way. If you were a body man way back in the 1960s, you were highly respected as being a talent. Out of all the blue-collar workers today, we are probably the most laughed at. Electricians, plumbers and any other metal fabricator are paid three times more. Even mechanics. Historically, mechanics made $2 an hour less than a technician or body man. When I first went into this industry, the shop rate was $6.50 per hour. That was 50 years ago, and look at where we are now. Mechanics are at $125 or $140 an hour, and we are at $40 an hour! Why would anyone want to get into this trade? It’s sickening to me that we must have the knowledge to do what we do, but this is how we are thought of! I learned to survive on little money compared to others. Some people go on vacation two or three times a year, but we didn’t do that. My wife and I both worked to have what we have. I learned how to get up at 4am, and I’d leave the shop at 4pm to do some activities with my kids, and then my wife would go to work and get home around 9pm or 10pm, and then I’d go back to the shop to finish painting a car. That’s the life of a body shop owner. As we get older, some are able to step back and others are still going at it, but I was done. I was just done. 

Want more? Check out the April 2024 issue of New England Automotive Report!