Growth was achieved across all distribution channels. Versus the prior year, sales through company-operated sales centers increased 8.0%, while sales to independent distributors and home centers increased 3.9% and 7.2%, respectively. Profit margin before tax increased 100 basis points to 10.9% due to improved productivity, reduced operating costs and lower interest expense. Free cash flow was $8.0 million versus $3.5 million in the prior year, and debt decreased $85.1 million to $319 million versus first quarter prior year.
``As we cross these turbulent economic times, we are focusing on two major goals,'' stated Jacques Sardas, chairman, president and CEO. ``We want to continue to reduce our debt and, at the same time, we want to invest in low cost, high quality manufacturing capabilities and exciting new products to support the ambitious growth we believe Dal-Tile is capable of attaining in the years to come. Meanwhile, we will continue to obsessively pursue all opportunities to maximize sales, reduce costs and increase our profits and cash flow. We will face the pressures of today's economy while preparing for a bright future for our company.''