Woodward & Lothrop Inc. used a firm hand in controlling expenses during its first quarter, resulting in a dramatic 271 percent increase in profits, officials said yesterday.

Earnings in the three months ended April 30 increased to $757,000 (30 cents a share) from $204,000 (8 cents) a year earlier, while sales grew to $84.2 million from $75.2 million.

"We are exercising strong expense control, while we aggressively merchandise our stores," said board Chairman Edwin K. Hoffman. "Reduced interest expense and less short-term borrowing also helped improve performance in the quarter."

James River Corp., a paper products manufacturer based in Richmond, said yesterday it more than doubled its profits in the year ended April 24 to $55.1 million ($4.03 a share) from $22.4 million ($1.95) the year before. Average shares outstanding were 12.72 million, compared with 8.75 million a year earlier.

Sales soared to $1.7 billion from $772.7 million, company officials said.

James River earned $19.6 million ($1.16) in the fourth quarter, compared with $6.7 million (62 cents) last year. Sales grew to $479.8 million from $207.1 million.

Final-quarter figures reflect the company's acquisition last July of Dixie-Northern from American Can Co.

Another Richmond firm, Bio-Rad Laboratories, posted earnings of $581,000 (20 cents a share) in the first quarter, compared with $326,000 (12 cents) last year. Sales increased to $15.7 million from $14 million. Bio-Rad manufactures clinical diagnostics, research products and analytical instruments.

Scotts Seaboard Corp. of Linthicum, Md., owner of the 17 Scott's Home and Garden Centers in the Washington-Baltimore area and Seaboard Plywood and Lumber Corp., said yesterday that it had earnings of $156,000 (9 cents) for its quarter ended April 30, compared with a loss of $416,000 in the same period last year. Sales increased to $10.7 million from $8.4 million.