The prospect of improved sales over the St Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and Easter periods showed through in last month's results and it is clear that independents are making the most of these key trading opportunities. When asked about their trade, 40% said it was up on this time last year. Last month the figure was 34%. Additionally, 41% said business was much the same, while 19% reported a downturn. The respective figures last month were 37% and 24%. When it came to predicting sales for the next three months, 66% believed there would be an upturn, compared with 61% last time. There were 27% who thought sales would remain the same (25% last month) and 7% (as last month) ­ who predicted sales would deteriorate. There was a clear indication that competition remained fierce when only 21% ­ a drop of two percentage points­ said their net margins were better. There were 49% who said margins were unchanged, which was a similar figure to last month's 51%. The survey showed 28% planned to increase business investment compared with 25% last month. There was a marked change in the way independents believed their customers perceived them. This month 80% thought they were seen as competitive on price but, last month, the figure was 98%. Additionally, 20% believed they were seen as expensive, but none of those interviewed last month felt that way. This month 71% of independents used up to three different cash and carry wholesalers. Competitive prices remained the most important consideration in the choice, followed by stock level and range. However, only 12% said wholesalers were very good across the three main criteria of price, range and stock levels. There were 61% who believed wholesalers were good, while 10% felt they were poor. The remaining 17% declined to answer. {{GROCER CLUB }}