Kingfisher , Europe's biggest home improvements retailer, said new stores and a drive to improve profit margins would help it to cope against a tough economic backdrop, as it beat forecasts with a 20 percent rise in annual profit.

The British group, detailing its new Creating the Leader growth programme, said on Thursday it would open 67 stores this financial year and test new formats aimed at making do it yourself easier for customers.

It will also step up a drive to improve profit margins by buying more products centrally, and directly, from cheap manufacturing countries like China.

This drive helped to boost profit before tax and one-off items to 807 million pounds ($1.28 billion) in the year ended January 28, topping analysts' average forecast of 799 million.

Sales rose 3.6 percent to 10.8 billion pounds, while the full-year dividend was lifted 25 percent to 8.84 pence a share.

Whilst the immediate economic outlook remains uncertain, we face the future in robust shape and with our successful self-help approach now embedded in the way we do business, said Kingfisher, which runs the market-leading B&Q chain in Britain as well as Castorama and Brico Depot in France and elsewhere.

Many European retailers are struggling as disposable incomes are squeezed by rising prices, muted wages growth and government austerity measures, and shoppers fret over the implications of the euro zone debt crisis.

Kingfisher, with about 950 stores in eight countries, announced a management incentive scheme a year ago which aims to lift adjusted earnings per share to 31.2 pence in 2013/14 from 20.5 pence in 2010/11. Earning were 25.1 pence a share in 2011/12.

The group's shares, up 23 percent over the last three months, closed on Wednesday at 300 pence, valuing the business at about 7.2 billion pounds.

($1 = 0.6310 British pounds)

(Reporting by James Davey and Mark Potter; Editing by Hans-Juergen Peters)