The independent retail sector is buoyant, with many neighbourhood stores reporting an increase in sales compared to last year ­ and even more expecting further improvement over the next three months. The upbeat sales picture comes from results in the first of our exclusive business barometer surveys ­ in spite of frustration at the growing burden of red tape voiced by neighbourhood retailers in The Grocer's straw poll (see story, left). Each month we will contact Grocer Club members to assess their mood ­ and the health of their businesses. When asked about their current level of trade, 56% said it was better than last year, 29% said it was the same and 15% reported a decline. When asked to forecast sales for the next three months, 68% predicted an upturn, 26% expected takings to remain the same and 6% thought there would be a decline. There is significant price pressure in the market place, but 32% said their net margins had risen, 46% reported no change, while 22% said profit was down. Thirty per cent said they would invest more in their business and 93% believed their customers viewed them as competitive on price. The survey showed that 48% of those questioned used only one cash and carry, and 13% used more than three. The importance of price, range and stock levels when buying from a wholesaler drew a mixed reaction.Only 21% rated their wholesaler very good across the three areas, while a similar percentage said it was poor. Among the best branded promotions in the past month were beer brands, Tetley tea bags, Walkers and McCoy's crisps, Kinder Bueno and KitKat Chunky. Bestselling lines for the month included such household names as Coca-Cola, Mars, Stella Artois, Lambert & Butler, and Carling Black Label, while, generically, milk, bread, confectionery and newspapers sold well. {{GROCER CLUB }}