Out-of-town family footwear retailer Brantano has returned to profit for the first time since 2005 but warned that the current year is “tougher”

The 144-store retailer reported pre-tax profits of £920,000 for the year to December 31, 2010 compared with a pre-tax loss of £4.6m the year before. Sales dipped 2% to £105.4m.

Brantano managing director David Short said: “We are very pleased with the results and it is particularly significant given the climate we are working in at the moment.”

But he said trading this year was “tougher than last year”.

“It is probably the toughest year since I took over this business,” he said. “Footfall is down significantly but where people do shop the conversion rate is up, but not enough to make up for the fall in footfall.”

He said Brantano, owned by Dutch retail conglomerate Macintosh Retail Group, which bought Jones Bootmaker this year, returned to profit largely due to the closure of eight poorly performing stores coupled with better buying strategies and efficiency improvements.

Brantano now sources 70% of its own-label product directly from southeast Asia compared with 10% three years ago, leading to greater cost savings.

Short said Brantano needed to improve its online offer. He said: “Online has been the most disappointing part of our business.”

The retailer, which stocks brands such as, Hush Puppies and Clarks as well as its own-brand, will relaunch its transactional website in mid-August and aims to double online sales within a year after that.

Brantano wants to increase store numbers by 50 over the next three years. This year it has opened two shops, and wants to open a further six to eight, then next year it wants to open 20.

In addition, it refitted 11 of its stores last year, and a further 30 in the first half of this year. Short said around 40% of the portfolio has been refitted and he expects all stores to have undergone a refit by 2013.