The spell of hot weather has failed to cheer up the independent retail sector. Surprisingly, this month's poll of 100 readers of The Grocer showed they were less optimistic about future trends than at any time since our Business Barometer surveys began in April. When asked how their current trade was compared to this time last year, only 21% said it was better.Last month the figure was 56%. Additionally, 47% said sales were the same and 32% reported a downturn, the equivalent figures for last month being 31% and 13%. Only 35% expected better sales over the next three months, compared to 56% last month. There was further pessimism with 44% forecasting no change and 21% expecting turnover to drop. Last month, 39% expected sales to be static with only 5% expecting a decline. The gloom on sales is also expected to have an adverse affect on independents' bottom line. Only 18% said their net margins were increasing compared to 38% last month, with 37% saying net margins were the same and 36% reporting that they were down. Last month's figures were 36% and 11% respectively. Equipment suppliers could find the going tough, because only 17% will be stepping up investment in their businesses ­ a figure well down on last month's 32%. For the first time since our survey began, one retailer felt shoppers viewed his store as very expensive. Those who think customers see them as expensive remained at 14% so, with the remainder believing their store to be competitive, it was a similar result to last month. When asked to rate their wholesaler on price, range and stock levels, 17% said very good, 64% good, while 19% said poor. Of the three best-selling product categories, confectionery got 85 hits, cigarettes 68 and soft drinks 63. Soft drink and alcohol brands were reported to be the month's best promoted lines. {{GROCER CLUB }}