That scenario became clear in this week's poll of neighbourhood stores when 28% of those questioned said current sales were better than a year ago ­ an improvement of 7% on last month. There were 40% who claimed business remained the same (51% last month), but 32% ­ compared with 28% last time ­ said sales had dipped. There was more optimism for the future with 49% (41% last month) expecting a sales upturn over the next three months, while 29% expected business to remain static and 22% pointed to a further downturn. Last month's respective figures were 38% and 21%. More independents ­ 21% compared with 16% last time ­ had increased their net margins, while 48% (compared with 51% last month) said margins remained unchanged. There were 31% (33% last time) whose margins had slipped. This month, 29% (23% last month) said they would be investing more in their businesses, although 44% (31% last month) said they would cut back. Fewer independents ­ 81% compared with 91% ­ believed customers saw them as price competitive with the multiples, while 18% thought they were viewed as expensive. Of those questioned, 66% said they used a particular wholesaler because it was the cheapest, while 19% said product range was their prime consideration, followed by 15% who chose their wholesaler more for good stock levels. There was further confirmation that cigarettes, confectionery, newspapers and magazines, alcohol, soft drinks, bread and milk were the key selling lines. Coca-Cola topped the list of the month's best promotions, but independents also picked out offers from Nestlé Rowntree, Sunny Delight, Walkers Sensations and most of the brewers. {{GROCER CLUB }}