When Visioneering Management took over the day-to-day operation of the National Plasterers Council four years ago, it set several goals, two of which were to grow the NPC membership and to make it a truly national organization.

If the 17th Annual NPC Conference, held Feb. 13-15 at the Ritz Carlton in Amelia Island, Fla., was any indication, then those goals are being reached. Attendance for the three-day event was 526, up from a record-setting 402 last year.

“Based on the evaluations we received [after the conference], everything was right on,” said Mitch Brooks, NPC’s executive director. “From the accommodations to the educational classes to the program, we got high marks.”

The exhibitors’ reception, featuring table-top displays that takes place on the second evening of the NPC show, is the centerpiece of the event. This year, exhibit space was at a premium as organizers added an extra hour to the reception. One hundred and thirty manufacturers were on hand to display their products, compared with 68 last year.

Indeed, the reception has been growing in length and importance. Originally two hours long, it was extended to three hours in 2005, per attendee requests. This year, organizers stretched it to four hours — and some exhibitors now say that the reception is a key part of their marketing strategies.

“This show brings all the people who use our materials into one place,” said Richard Howell, president of Florida Stucco in Boca Raton, Fla. “The big shows are great, but they are for everybody. This [show] narrows it down.”

The increase in the size of the table-top exhibit area was not lost on some of the material providers, who were kept busy during the four-hour reception.

“We are way busier than we expected,” said Don Pugh Jr., territory manager for C.L. Industries in Orlando, Fla. “It’s exciting. We’ve had a lot of traffic. The show is doing really well.”

Other conference highlights included the keynote address by Mike Rayburn, a musician, comedian and motivational speaker. NPC’s Brooks said he wanted someone who was going to instill a “rah-rah” feeling among the attendees, and he thought Rayburn hit the mark.

Also, a presentation on the latest study from the National Pool Industry Research Center at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo was given by professors Damian Kachlakev, Ph.D., P.E., and Nirupam Pal, Ph.D.

Other educational opportunities included classes on gunite and shotcrete engineering, making customer service fun, pozzalans and an anti-entrapment seminar.

For next year’s event, Brooks said he would like to tweak the educational program slightly, adding and duplicating classes so attendees would not be forced to choose between functions. Another new twist will be holding a costume party for the opening reception, which will feature Elvis Presley, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra impersonators.

“It will be a lot of fun; we’ll do things a little differently,” Brooks said. “This event has become sort of like a reunion for some guys and next year, it will get even bigger and better.”

The 2007 NPC Conference is slated for Feb. 13-15 at the Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.