VF Corp (NYSE: VFC ) might not be a familiar name to most people. But I would guess that its Big Three brands are: Timberland, The North Face, and Vans.
Investors in this company -- and its popular brands -- have had a great run as of late: the stock has quadrupled in the last five years, when dividends are included. That has investors excited.
But what should we be focusing on moving forward? After listening to the company's most recent conference call, five key points stick out.
The retail business is struggling
I'm not necessarily talking about struggles for VF Corp specifically, but rather the whole industry that relies on retail shopping malls to hawk their products. VF Corp CEO Eric Weisman explained, "By the promotional activity that you're seeing at retail today ... consumers are tough to get at. We're seeing that in our wholesale business."
But VF Corp is still succeeding, thanks to this growing channel
VF Corp's way around the slow demise of retail is a two-pronged, direct-to-consumer (D2C) approach. This includes a strategy of opening up VF stores across the country. Currently, there are 1,299 such locations -- and the company shows no signs of slowing down its expansion.
The other side of the D2C coin is e-commerce. VF Corp has been investing money in the platform and infrastructure necessary to help customers around the world get their clothing and shoes by ordering them online.
When earnings are reported, both of these segments are combined under the broader D2C umbrella. The category showed sales growth of 18% last quarter, an acceleration from the 13% growth it showed last year.
Looking forward, Wiseman sees more opportunities for the D2C channel to grow: "we're well positioned to leverage both our brick and mortar and e-commerce channels to strengthen our brands and drive revenue growth."
The Big Three are doing very well
On the company's conference call, management took a long time breaking down the performance of its Timberland, Vans, and The North Face brands. Instead of quoting extensively from the call, I've assembled all the relevant numbers below. As Wiseman stated, there were, "notable performances from the Big Three brands."
Underneath these bigger numbers were a couple of important details. For instance, the Vans brand grew 40% overall in Asia, and in its D2C channel in Europe. Also in Europe, growth of The North Face's D2C channel also hovered at about 40%.
Jeans aren't doing so well
Beyond the Big Three brands, VF Corp also counts on sales of jeans like Lee and Wrangler for one-quarter of its revenue. Sales of jeans in the U.S. were actually down 1% during the past quarter.
The company forced some of its jeans manufacturers to take down times, and VF Corp lost some profitability because it had inventory problems.
Scott Baxter, the company's VP for jeanswear, said the problems surrounding sales stemmed from "continued challenges in the U.S. mid-tier channel and the ongoing unfavorable women's denim trend." In other words, the Lee brand is seen as more of a value brand, and it simply isn't resonating with key female demographics.
The dividend still has room to grow
One of the best parts about investing in VF Corp is that it has continuously increased its dividend payout for some time now.
The company has made it clear that it plans to continue splitting its free cash flow between acquisition of new brands, and paying out dividends. That means big potential growth in the immediate future.
As Weisman stated, "From a dividend standpoint, in 2014, we'll expect to increase our dividend substantially, once again just as we have over the past couple of years, is likely by more than 20%, just like we did last year, moving toward that ultimate goal of 40% payout level."
To put that in perspective, the company used 35% of its free cash flow over the past 12 months to pay its dividend. Upping that to 40% would mean a payout growth of 14% if free cash flow never increased again.
But free cash flow is growing, by 36% between 2011 and 2013. That means that even though the company sports a low 1.7% payout right now, there's a good chance it will continue to grow for years to come.
But is VF Corp's dividend one of the best?
The smartest investors know that dividend stocks simply crush their non-dividend paying counterparts over the long term. That's beyond dispute, and its part of why VF Corp is a sound investment.
Knowing how valuable a dividend portfolio might be, our top analysts put together a report on a group of high-yielding stocks that should be in any income investor's portfolio. Is VF Corp one of them? To see our free report on these stocks, just click here now.