1 Retailer's Most Ambitious Growth Plan

Some companies make things easy on themselves when they make long-term plans. Barclays, for instance, has the headline plan of being the "go-to bank" for customers. It's a great plan because it doesn't pin the bank down to doing or achieving anything in particular. More accounts? That's success. Fewer accounts with more money? That's success. More kids or parents or grandparents or working-class stiffs? All success. In short, it's the kind of strategic goal that I would come up with.

Other companies don't make things quite so simply. Apparel company VF  (NYSE: VFC  ) has decided not only to make it harder but to make it an actual challenge. The company is operating under the premise that by 2017, it can generate $17 billion in annual revenue. That's a challenge because last year, VF only made $10.9 billion. Fire up the engines and get ready for a ride.

Growth, Alice in Wonderland style
The $17 billion goal is certainly the headline, but the growth required each year to get to $17 billion is almost more surprising. In order to hit its goal, VF needs revenue to hit a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10% for five years. That's an ambitious goal, but VF has the background to make it a possibility. Last year, the company grew revenue by 15%, and earnings per share grew by 17%. In addition to its revenue goal, VF also has a 2017 annual EPS goal of $18, which requires a CAGR of 13%.

For the growth, VF is depending heavily on its existing lines. The heaviest hitters will come from the outdoor and action sports division, which contains the North Face, Vans, and Timberland brands. That division is projected to have a CAGR of 14% for the next five years, with 11 percentage points coming from organic growth and three points from acquisitions.

Outdoor action accounted for 54% of total revenue last year, and the brands in the portfolio showed excellent strength. Big sporting goods competitors like Under Armour (NYSE: UA  ) have less of an impact on VF as they don't focus so heavily on lifestyle and outdoor clothing. Under Armour focuses on athletic clothing, for instance, which is not the sort of clothing that the North Face produces. While there is some overlap with cold-weather clothing, Under Armour's quickly growing fleece line still contains an athletic functional component that the North Face lacks.

Challenges ahead
It's not all smooth sailing yet, though. While more traditional athletic providers aren't offering a whole lot of competition, there's still pressure from companies like Columbia Sportswear (NASDAQ: COLM  ) . Columbia's product line is more comparable to the North Face, but the company hasn't managed to achieve the kind of growth that VF has seen with the North Face.

Last year, Columbia's revenue actually dipped slightly, and 2013's revenue is forecast to be flat on 2012. That doesn't mean that it's a gimme for VF, though. The company has had a slow start to 2013 and while first-quarter EPS grew by 25% year over year, revenue only rose 2%. Some of that slowness is due to other brands like Columbia taking sales that VF needs if it's going to hit its 2017 goals.

Overall, it's going to be a tough five years. In the end, I think VF has the brand strength to make it through, and I'll be surprised if it doesn't hit $17 billion, but it's no cakewalk. Under Armour is a very fast company, and if it decided to branch out into more casual wear to bring in more female customers or more casual shoppers, it could turn that on quickly. The brazenness of VF's announcement makes me want it to succeed, but I'll be watching closely for any sustained slowdowns on this long trek.

The retail space is in the midst of the biggest paradigm shift since mail order took off at the turn of the last century. Only those most forward-looking and capable companies will survive, and they'll handsomely reward those investors who understand the landscape. You can read about the 3 Companies Ready to Rule Retail in The Motley Fool's special report. Uncovering these top picks is free today; just click here to read more.


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