The number of c-store owners looking to invest in their businesses has risen significantly over the past three months, according to a new survey.

The latest ACS Voice of Local Shops survey found that 36% of local retailers were considering investing in their existing store or buying a new business, an increase of nearly one-third since the last survey. One in four respondents (25%) is planning to invest in refurbishing or improving their existing store, while 11% are planning to buy new stores. Only 6% of the 200-plus respondents are planning to sell stores.

In a further positive development, the number of retailers planning to increase the number of paid staff hours has nearly doubled to 23%, while only 17% intend to decrease employment hours. In addition, 50% are expecting sales to increase in the next year, and only 13% expect the opposite. Business is better in the South, where 28% of retailers have seen sales rise over the past three months and 54% expect sales to improve over the next 12 months - compared to 18% and 45% in the North respectively.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Current trading conditions are tough, but with an important trading summer ahead independent retailers are showing signs of optimism and thinking about their long term sustainability.”

However, the economy remains one of top three concerns for 61% of retailers, while competition in the market is a major concern for 51% of respondents. Since the last survey, there has been a 13% increase in the number of retailers who are concerned by increases in the minimum wage.

Crime remains an issue, with 75% shopkeepers experiencing some form of verbal abuse in the past year.