In this week's Grocer 4 Independents poll of neighbourhood store proprietors, fewer retailers reported increased sales and there was a significant dip in the number expecting business to improve over the next few months. There was also a marked decline in the number reporting improved net margins. The survey showed 24% reported higher current sales than this time last year, a 4% drop on last month, while 44% said trade remained static (40% last month) and 32% ­ the same as last month ­ said business had declined. Looking at prospects for the next quarter, 37% expected sales to improve, compared with 49% last time. Additionally, 46% thought business would remain unchanged (29% last month) and 17% (22% last time) believed sales would decline. Only 13% (compared with 21% last month) said net margins had increased, while 62% said margins remained unchanged (48% last month). There were 25% (compared with 31% last month) who said margins had fallen. Business investment continues to decline with only 25% saying they planned to spend more (29% last month). More independents ­ 29% compared with 18% ­ believed their customers saw them as expensive. This increase meant that only 71% (compared with 81% last month) believed they were viewed as competitive. There were 31% who used only one cash and carry, 27% who used two or three and 24% who used more than three. The remaining 18% had their requirements delivered. At 66% ­ the same as last month ­ price was again the most important reason for independents' choice of a C&C, but only 22% rated their wholesaler very good across price, range and stock availability. {{GROCER CLUB }}