"Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in a square hole, the ones who see things differently."
-- Apple Computer Advertising, 1997
A revolutionary company is one that sees not just the rules, but the ways to break those rules -- and create something unforeseen.
Companies like Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) and Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) have been doing this for years. Apple bounced back after a decade-long slump, not only changing the way operating systems looked and functioned, but also charging ahead in new and unchartered territories with the advent of the iPod and the iPhone.
Wal-Mart used its clout and massive purchasing power to provide no-frills retail outlets for customers who wanted the most variety of goods at the lowest prices. It did this by mastering supply chain management and strategically placing its distribution centers to minimize costs. It then shrewdly applied its business model to international markets.
Shareholders have certainly reaped the benefit of the companies' determination. Both have delivered thousand-percent gains since inception, and yet both still trade at pretty reasonable multiples -- 21 and 14, respectively. In fact, they're both supposed to continue growing beyond a 10% clip over the next five years, so don't think their best days are behind them. These are still revolutionary companies.
But despite their growth possibilities, when it comes to investing, the trick is to find a revolutionary company before the herd does. That can be the difference between a comfortable retirement and the one you've always dreamed of.
A great example is the theme park industry about 30 years ago. Disney (NYSE: DIS ) was the de facto leader, providing customers with Disneyland and Disneyworld -- two enormous hits that set the bar for showmanship, effectiveness, and profitability. Disney's attractions were family-friendly and mild in nature. And most importantly, they were wildly popular.
Then Jay Stein came along. At the time he was head of MCA Recreation, which owned Universal Studios (now owned by General Electric ). He wanted to transform Universal's theme parks from doing what they were -- taking customers "behind the movie scene" -- to something much more engaging.
He created thrilling, dangerous, and haunting rides. Rides for movies like Jaws were so perilous that riders could actually get hurt if they put their arms too close to harm's way. According to one source, "Every day there are customer complaints that the fireballs are too hot."
The bottom line is that Stein turned Disney's strength -- its fun-but-safe environment -- into a confining weakness. Disney can't change without losing its core audience.
Now none of this is to say anything bad about Disney; it's still top dog in the entertainment game, and its theme parks still manage to bring in 30% of its overall revenues. There's simply no one better at taking movie products or characters and integrating them into other lines of their business than Disney. But it's not changing the game.
Game changing companies don't just sit and think for a long time about how to break rules. They actively find ways to exploit weaknesses and employ their own strengths. They find a market that's successful and then figure out why it's suboptimal.
Bricks-and-mortar stores have a distinct set of qualities. They have a physical presence with a large but limited selection of books chosen by dedicated book buyers. Customers browse by section or genre and choose books based on things like covers, summaries, and blurbs. Before Amazon came along, if you wanted a book that the bricks-and-mortar store didn't stock, it could take weeks to get it in.
Amazon didn't just improve on the model, it changed it altogether. Instead of browsing distinct categories, you could search anything, including related books of interest. Customers were able to read reviews written by people like themselves, and the site suggested books they might not have known about. Best of all, you could get nearly any book -- no matter how obscure -- in three to five days.
Of course, in retrospect, these upgrades to the customer experience seem obvious, but at the time they were anything but. Amazon illustrates that to be revolutionary you need to look to the future and anticipate needs. And Amazon didn't stop there; it's continued to innovate, as evidenced by its foray into cloud computing and its blockbuster venture into the e-reading space with the Amazon Kindle.
That's why a company that was once trading for a dollar and some change is now sitting at a cool $128 a pop.
Barnes & Noble and Borders, well, they're a different story. Barnes & Noble is trying to adapt -- it's at least offered up the Nook in the e-reader space -- but both still suffer from constantly trying to play "catch-up." In addition, Borders is saddled with debt and has considered selling itself on numerous occasions. Sometimes that lack-of-innovation mentality is hard to shed.
The next groundbreaking stock
David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, specializes in finding stocks just like this. He looks for companies that are disrupting their industries and igniting fear in the competition.
In a conversation with David a few months ago, he told me he specifically looks for companies facing clouds of adversity, and then determines whether a company has the wherewithal to break through those clouds.
He recently selected IMAX (Nasdaq: IMAX ) as a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. It has all the traits of a groundbreaker. Although operating in a recessionary environment and with a few rough years at its back, IMAX has increased its number of screens from 248 to 403 over the past five years and adopted joint ventures with retail chains like AMC and Regal. And despite tough economic conditions, movie revenues were up this year, in large part due to IMAX's contribution to incremental ticket prices.
Hollywood loves IMAX because it offers an opportunity to reap higher ticket prices while increasing the fan base. IMAX loves Hollywood because the transition to 3-D movies is only going to bring IMAX more and more business. And you should love IMAX, too. Its 163-screen backlog offers tons of room for future growth, and this is definitely the time to take advantage of the conversion from regular movie-viewing to the nascent 3-D revolution.
Remember -- it only takes one earth-shattering stock to completely ramp up your portfolio. David's recommendations are beating the S&P 500 by over 25 percentage points; that's the type of success that can revolutionize your financial future. If you're interested in learning more about IMAX or seeing all of David's past and present recommendations, you can be a guest of the service, free for 30 days. Click here for more information.
Fool contributor Jordan DiPietro owns shares of General Electric. Walt Disney and Wal-Mart Stores are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. IMAX is a Rule Breakers selection. Apple, Amazon.com, and Walt Disney are Stock Advisor picks. The Fool's disclosure policy looks better in 3-D.