Rural retailer Countrywide has posted record profits, helped by strong sales of clothing and footwear, improved retailing and new store openings.

Demand for clothing labels such as Le Chameau, Joules and Musto, improvement in areas such as product availability, and the launch of the Farmgate brand for smallholders all contributed to the retailer’s strong showing.

The stores arm increased its operating profits by 33% to £3.6m on sales up 8% to £75m in the year to May 31, 2010. Like-for-like sales rose 4%.

Chief executive John Hardman acknowledged that Countrywide had been cushioned from the worst effects of the recession because the retailer has a large proportion of customers with high disposable incomes, but he maintained: “We’ve done a lot of work - it has not just fallen into our lap.”

Retail director Garry Wharmby said the profits rise reflected a raft of changes designed to enhance the retail offer, such as better brands, staff training and the roll-out of dedicated Equestrian World areas in shops.

After a successful trial, he said Countrywide would roll out its loyalty card across the chain. At present there are about 30,000 members of the scheme, which is currently available in half of the retailer’s 46 shops.

Despite uncertain trading conditions, Hardman was confident of continued financial improvement. He said: “We have had three years of solid growth and we think we can take it on again.”

Countrywide runs agriculture and energy divisions as well as retail. At group level, operating profits rose 44% to £3.6m on sales slightly down to £205.7m

Chairman Nigel Hall, a former Arcadia finance director, said last year’s performance was “a tremendous achievement in trading conditions that few have experienced”.

Next Saturday, Countrywide will open a new, relocated store in Melksham, Wiltshire, incorporating environmentally friendly elements such as rainwater collection and reuse and reduced energy needs.