Rural specialist Countrywide is on the look-out for acquisitions after maintaining retail profitability and increasing sales last year.

Countrywide, which has 45 stores selling products such as riding gear and pet supplies, bought specialist equestrian retailer Town and Country Supplies last year and chief executive John Hardman is interested in more deals.

He said: “We continue to seek opportunities to grow the business through a combination of new store openings and business acquisitions.”

In the year to May 31, Countrywide’s retail division posted flat operating profit of £3.6m, which Hardman said was “a significant achievement in a challenging and highly competitive market”.

Like-for-likes rose 1.3% and total sales advanced 4% to £79m. The retailer has been refurbishing stores and promoting its specialist credentials to draw customers, and there are now 75,000 members of its loyalty scheme. A value range is being launched in reaction to tough retail conditions.

At group level Countrywide posted a record operating profit of £4m, helped by the performance of its agricultural supplies arm. Group sales rose 10% to £226.3m.

Chairman Nigel Hall, a former Arcadia finance director, said he was delighted with performance but cautioned: “Trading conditions in all our markets are expected to remain challenging, with renewed uncertainty as to the course of economic recovery.”