First-quarter net sales at BlueLinx Holdings jumped 16% from the same period a year ago to $453 million as its net loss improved by just over $1 million to reach $11 million, the company announced today.

The Atlanta-based building materials distributor revealed an operating loss of $4.1 million, a $1 million improvement over first quarter 2011’s operating loss, as gross profit rose 17% to $54.2 million for the period ended March 31. The company said its ongoing initiatives to increase unit volumes and margins across all product categories and increases in product prices helped drive gross profit up.

“We are very pleased by the sales growth in the first quarter and encouraged by signs of strengthening economic activity and improving industry trends,” said George Judd, president and CEO of BlueLinx.

Overall unit volume rose 11% from last year’s opening quarter, as specialty unit volume increased 12% and the structural segment’s unit volume grew 9%.

“Our improved first-quarter results demonstrated our ability to grow revenue while keeping adjusted operating expenses flat and expanding margins,” said Judd. “Looking forward, the positive sales momentum experienced in the first quarter has continued into April.”