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Kenny King Drives ‘Quartzsite’ RV Show’s Growth

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December 6, 2017 by   Leave a Comment

Aerial shot of 2017 Quartzsite Show

Even Kenny King, the acknowledged architect behind the annual late January phenomenon, is unsure how the Quartzsite RV Show snowballed into what purportedly is the largest gathering of RVers in the nation.

“There’s really no way to get an accurate count,” said King, who estimated he’s been involved in the RV industry “in some aspect” for 50-plus years, originally supplying fabric to RV awning makers. “We use 100,000 to 150,000 as our attendance figure, but it’s impossible to track because we don’t charge admission and people just come in droves. They claim that when we open our gates, Quartzsite has the third largest population in Arizona. All I can tell you is the place is packed, and companies are moving product.

“The RV exhibitors used to just set up a table or a tent and start selling,” he related. “But it’s become more organized over the years in that respect. Vendors come here with a full staff and then we have a miniature warehouse set up where we can receive product from UPS and deliver it right to their booths. So it’s actually pretty organized. But I’m still not sure how the show turned into this Woodstock-size event. All I can say is, it’s been an amazing ride.”

Perhaps Quartzite’s roots offer some clues to the show’s success. The former Arizona gold mining town was long known for its popular rock and mineral show, which also proved to be a strong draw for the RVing community. The area also became a haven for snowbird RVers as the Arizona Bureau of Land Management (BLM) permits camping on a huge tract of land in the Sonora Desert for six months of the year.

Kenny King

“The Quartzsite RV Show is situated near a lot of other attractions and shopping venues in the area,” King said, noting that this year’s edition was again scheduled to cater to that snowbird crowd, running Jan. 20-28. “I renamed our show the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation and RV Show because there are just so many things for people to do.”

The other part of the equation is King, a tireless promoter with countless connections throughout the industry. Although he shuns any official title, he has in effect directed the show since he and his partner, Mal Mallory, bought 20 acres adjacent to the BLM property in 1997.

“When we first started out, it was kind of like Barnum and Bailey,” King recalled. “For a number of years we had a stage where we held seminars and had some local entertainment. I remember Camping World founder Dave Garvin actually had a professional auctioneer. But it never was well attended. People come here to shop. The only time they sit down is when they’re tired and want something to eat.”

King, who has always employed a hands-on management style, stays on the move throughout the show, networking with vendors and interacting with attendees.

“I don’t just sit in a tent when the show is running,” he said, noting that he recently took sole ownership of the Quartzsite show after buying out Mallory who retired last April. “I’m out there, talking to our exhibitors and with the RVers — just making sure everyone is enjoying the show and seeing if there is anything we need to do.

RVers enjoy the flea market atmosphere of the Quartzsite Show

“I really think the draw — for vendors and RVers — is word of mouth,” he added. “Our exhibitors do our advertising for us, going from show to show and telling people how successful and different Quartzsite is. And the RVers really enjoy the eclectic selection of products and the flea market-type atmosphere. They go out and tell other RVers and it just feeds attendance for the next year.”

One of the features that further distinguishes Quartzsite, according to King, is that the show hosts service bays during the event offering RVers access to a “full blown service department.”

“The dealers come in, put down cement slabs, and then are doing complete installations when customers purchase a product,” he said. “We have a company, Redlands Truck and RV from California, that has 50 guys on hand for installations. It just makes the whole process that much easier for the customer.”

King related that one of his most loyal patrons over the years has been California-based Paul Evert’s RV Country.

“For the last 10 to 15 years Paul Evert’s RV Country has been bringing in upwards of 200 units,” he said. “Right now, they are the exclusive dealer on my property — the rest of the dealers set up along the main thoroughfares to Quartzsite. Their display sits on a couple of acres and then he rents another four acres. They come here with a full show team including PDI staff and service techs.”

As the show continued to evolve, King said he ran into a few speed bumps along the way. But he identified his biggest challenge as the rampant consolidation that has spread across all segments of the industry in recent years.

“It’s really different now,” King said. “We used to have individual booths for all the vendors. But now it seems they’re all owned by a handful of companies. The problem for us is that if you don’t get that parent company, then you don’t get any of their affiliates. But we’ll keep fighting the battle, just with a different cast of characters.”

Which may contribute to the fact that after 20 years running the show, he still experiences opening day jitters.

“It amazes me every year that people keep coming back,” he said. “I still get sick to my stomach that first day, worried that nobody will show up. But when the gates open up and there is a 1/4-mile long traffic jam and 1,000 people in line, I figure we’re going to be OK.”

King, who will be 70 next April, estimates that he’ll be in the game for another eight years, working until “I get my partner paid off.” He also sold his other business ventures which include Kenny King Enterprises, a parts distribution company, and Poly-Tak protection systems, which supplies adhesive-back polyethylene film for RV carpeting primarily to dealers for use in displays.

When he does step away, his appointed successor is his daughter, Kimmy, who has been involved in various capacities for several years.

“Kimmy will slowly take things over and then I’ll hand her the keys,” King said. “She, and her husband, Bryan, who has been in training for two years with the show, will be able to run it like Mal and I did all those years. It will give them a nice life in the future, as long as they can keep this thing rolling, which I am confident they can.

“At this point, I can’t really imagine not being involved, but it’s getting to be that time. As I said, it’s been a great ride.”

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