Improved gross margin and cost productivity helped DIY giant Kingfisher post a rise in first quarter profits despite a like-for-like sales fall.

Group retail profit climbed 12% to £146m in the period to May 1, when total sales were flat at £2.64bn and like-for-likes fell 1.8%.

The performance was mirrored at the flagship B&Q business in the UK and Ireland, where retail profit climbed by 12% to £67m on total sales down 2.1% to £1.05bn. Like-for-likes slipped 2.8%.

The quarter, during which trading was affected by snow, is traditionally one of the least important contributors to full-year profit.

Despite the difficult conditions, B&Q improved gross margin by 90 basis points as a result of better sales of higher margin goods, shrinkage reduction and more direct sourcing.

Kingfisher chief executive Ian Cheshire said the retailer had made a good start to the year but conditions remain challenging.

He said: “The prolonged cold weather also delayed the start to the outdoor spring season, contrasting with favourable conditions the previous year.

“However, our self-help initiatives helped us deliver flat sales whilst improving gross margin and cost productivity.

“There is still much to do this year. The headwinds we anticipated at the start of the year look set to continue but we are in good shape and well prepared.”