Arts and crafts retailer HobbyCraft is doubling the rate of its store expansion programme on the back of strong sales and a weak property market. The retailer will open at least eight stores in the year to February 2010. Traditionally the retailer has opened just four a year.

Chief executive Chris Crombie said: “It’s a brilliant time to be opening stores. Landlords are keen to let space.” He said retailers can secure excellent property deals and he is insisting on monthly rents for all new signings.

Crombie said at one retail park in a medium-sized town the landlord offered a £750,000 incentive to take the site, which he said covered its remodelling costs.

HobbyCraft will open five stores before Christmas in Harlow, Hull, Solihull, Thanet and Aberdeen. It will open a store in Peterborough in the new year and plans for another before the year end. So far this year it has also opened a shop in Fort Kinnaird in Edinburgh.

Crombie also said now is also a good time to be hiring staff and HobbyCraft has taken on many former Woolworths staff. In Edinburgh the majority of its staff are former Woolworths’ employees.

In the 24 weeks to August 9 like-for-like sales jumped 10.3% while total sales rocketed 24.2%. The 39-store retailer plans to grow to 180 stores over the medium term.

The retailer is also looking to expand its online offer. Crombie said: “We’ve just dipped our toe in the water but it will become an increasingly important revenue stream in the coming months so we’ll be ramping this up.”

HobbyCraft stocks 38,000 lines in stores but only sells 5,000 online. Crombie said it will sell the “vast majority” of lines on its website “in the next few years”.

He added that the models category has performed strongly as shoppers move back to more traditional and nostalgic products. He also said as the recession encourages consumers to stay in more, sales of knitting and baking products have jumped too.