Merchants and suppliers from across the industry met last night (8 April) at a Gala Dinner event ahead of today's annual National Merchant Buying Society (NMBS) exhibition for independent merchants.

A highlight of the NMBS' annual calendar, the Gala Dinner brought over 500 suppliers and merchants together to enjoy an evening of networking and entertainment, while today's exhibition will give them the chance to see the latest new products, technologies and support packages merchants can use to grow their business.

Held at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, the Gala Dinner also raised over £4,400 for industry charity The Rainy Day Trust (RDT), which gives financial support for people who have, or who still, work in the industry and have fallen on hard times as a result of accidents, redundancies or other difficulties. James Norton of Frank Key Group, who is a trustee of the RDT, thanked NMBS and the guests at the Gala Dinner for their generosity. All those who gave money to the trust were entered into a prize draw to win a 64gb iPad Air, a 32gb iPod Touch and an iPad smart case

NMBS chairman Tim Allen also took to the stage to address the assembled guests. He highlighted the key changes the NMBS has undergone over the past year, including their 50th anniversary last year and the fact that last year the Society had its best turnover ever. "The last year has been one of the most eventful in the history of the NMBS," he said. "Through new business and organic growth our turnover reached £648m - a 25% increase on the previous year. We also launched our apprenticeship scheme, which I am happy to announce has just reached its target with over 50 apprentices now in gainful employment."

Turning his attention to the recent amalgamation between NMBS and Unimer, Mr Allen thanked Howard Grant, Leo Martin and the rest of the Unimer board for helping to ensure a smooth transition, adding: "This is probably the most significant step for NMBS, recognising the vision and ambition of both boards to offer significant benefits to both members and suppliers."The amalgamation has seen 240 new merchant members join NMBS, along with over 160 new suppliers.

"This year will be a year of consolidation for NMBS, with a projected combined turnover of £1.1bn for NMBS," said Mr Allen. "Thank you in anticipation for your future support and I look forward to a good year for everyone."

Following a three-course meal, guests were then entertained by Kevin Keegan OBE, who took them on a lighthearted tour of his career as a footballer and manager.