West 49 Inc, one of Canada's leading action sport retailers, has narrowed its first quarter net loss thanks to higher sales and margins and lower expenses.

The company, which operates 133 stores under the West 49, Billabong, Off The Wall, Amnesia/Arsenic, D-Tox and Duke's Northshore banners, said its loss narrowed to CAD2.6m (USCAD2.4m), or CAD0.04 per share, from CAD4.2m or CAD0.07 per share, last year.

Net sales in the three months to 2 May rose 4.9% to CAD40.8m from CAD39.9m a year ago.

Comparable store sales increased 2.9% on a consolidated basis and 7.7% for the core West 49 banner.

"In spite of the challenging economy, we improved our margins while growing both our net sales and comparable store sales in the first quarter," said CEO Sam Baio.

"Our stronger comparable store sales and top line growth are a testament to the exceptional brands we offer and our competitive pricing.

"Our improved focus on inventory and merchandising, and partnering with our vendors yielded higher margins. In addition, we benefited from the continued improvement in our expense management."

Gross margin increased CAD2.6m to CAD7.4m and rose 580 basis points to 18.1% from 12.3% a year earlier.

Selling, general and administrative (SG&A) expenses fell 20 basis points as a rate to net sales.

Looking ahead, the company says it will "strategically open new stores, continue our efforts to maximise returns from our existing stores, and will continue to review our portfolio for any under-performing stores that should be targeted for closure."