* Moleskine sees sales growth ahead as Q4 sales accelerate
* Retail strategy is working as expected
* Plans to open two shops in UK, top European market (adds detail, comment from conference call)
MILAN, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Italian notebook maker Moleskine said it saw sales growth ahead as it reported a 13.5 percent rise in full-year revenue on Tuesday, fulfilling a pledge to raise sales in late 2013 after a disappointing third quarter.
The company, named after travel writer and novelist Bruce Chatwin’s nickname for his favourite notebook, said it made 87 million euros ($119 million) in 2013, just below analyst estimates of around 88 million euros.
Arrigo Berni, chief executive of the company which listed in Milan last April, said sales growth accelerated in the fourth quarter and sounded a positive note for the future.
“I believe that the investments we are making in the business, combined with the strong team in place, allow a robust platform for growth in the years ahead,” Berni said in a statement.
Moleskine has decided to focus on direct retail sales - through its shops and on its website - a capital-intensive process which depresses margins in the short term.
“In retail our growth strategy is working as expected,” Berni told analysts on a conference call, adding that the company opened five stores in China in 2013, reaching a total of 9 in the country, and planned to open one in Italy and two in France this year.
Moleskine reports detailed results on March 10. Berni said on a conference call in November he expected profit margin as a percentage of sales to grow in the fourth quarter from 24.6 percent in the third quarter.
Berni said Britain overtook Germany to become Moleskine’s largest European market, a trend on which the company hopes to capitalise by opening two standalone stores in London’s Covent Garden and Canary Wharf this year.
Moleskine said “unsatisfactory” sales in Germany led it to end an agreement with a local distributor and take up direct management of the business there itself.
The business-to-business division through which the company makes personalised stationery for brands including Apple and Cadillac rose 22.7 percent, Moleskine said.
Investments in technology, such as a photo-friendly jotter created with web-based note-sharing service Evernote, should also support the brand in future, analysts say.
“Initiatives to bridge the digital/analog spectrum have generated significant brand excitement, momentum and growth,” Goldman Sachs analysts said in a note on Feb. 6.
$1 = 0.7312 euros Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Anthony Barker