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Sometimes the best investments are the ones that are hiding right in plain sight. They come from companies that we already understand, that make products we all use every day. Take shoes, for instance; you know how shoes work, you can see the trends in shoes each time you step outside, and the companies that dominate the market are household names. Shoe companies are a great place to buy what you know.
The dominant player here is clearly Nike (NYSE: NKE ) . The company is huge, and it has the investment benefit of not only making shoes, but also making just about everything you use in any sport. In addition to owning the Nike brand, the company also owns Converse and Umbro, among others. Last year, Nike made $24 billion in revenue, up from $21 billion in the previous year. Of that, $13 billion came from footwear, which was an increase of 17% from the previous year.
To put that in context, beleaguered Steve Madden (Nasdaq: SHOO ) made $969 million last year. While the company doesn't have the size or history of Nike, it has been around for more than 20 years. Unfortunately, it's spent most of the past 10 years trying to clean up its image, after Steve Madden (the actual human being, not the company) was indicted by the SEC for a variety of frauds. The brand has done well recently, and over the past year, the stock is up 17%.
New challengers appear
Nike makes shoes that you run, jump, and play in to get fit. SKECHERS (NYSE: SKX ) decided that it would be easier if all you had to do was walk around a bit in the company's Shape-ups. Unfortunately that turned out to be deceptive, and SKECHERS recently agreed to pay customers back to the tune of $40 million. Luckily, the company is popular enough to overcome that sort of hurdle, and even though the decision was announced in May this year, the stock is still up 57% this year. It seems like investors were expecting a much harsher decision from the FTC, and the stock popped after the announcement. While the announcement didn't seem to hurt the stock, sales suffered last quarter, dropping 12% from the previous year.
Those three companies round out the three that I'd probably ever consider buying shoes from, but it doesn't round out the possibilities for investment. Crocs (Nasdaq: CROX ) makes shoes that I would never, ever buy. When I worked in food service, I could see the value of them, just not for me. But the company is having a good year, so far. The stock is up 9% in 2012, and last quarter, revenue increased 13% over the previous year. The last quarter was a much needed change from earlier in the year, when Crocs released a disappointing earnings forecast that hammered its shares.
The bottom line
I've been on a bit of a Nike kick recently, and that's not going to stop. Nike benefits from its diverse range of goods, strong sales machine, and worldwide brand. Steve Madden has made some very positive changes over the past few years, but I just don't know where it's headed. Crocs and SKECHERS are both riskier stocks, but lots of people like them. If I had to choose a runner-up, I'd choose Crocs for its strong growth.
Nike also makes me happy because owning it doesn't make me lose any sleep. It's a solid company with very few risks, and the management team has shown an ability to overcome most of the issues that come up. That strength has made Nike one of the Fool's 3 American Companies Set to Dominate the World. You can get the details on all three companies in this free report, and get investing today.