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There are companies out there that we all wish we could have caught at the beginning: Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) , Nike (NYSE: NKE ) , and Procter and Gamble, for example. These companies had huge growth initially, and they still continue to grow year after year. Despite not catching Coke at its 1919 IPO (we all make mistakes), iits brand and the firm grip it holds on its industry still make the soda sultan a great investment today.
All of the aforementioned companies owe a great deal to their brands. Could you imagine if Nike stopped putting its distinctive swoosh on everything? That's why companies with incredibly strong brands make a great place to start your search for the next potential Rule Maker.
You mean, companies like Under Armour?
Under Armour (NYSE: UA ) is a perfect example of a company poised for Rule Maker status. In the old days, when my knees still worked, I played lacrosse for my university. It was pretty cold when the season opened in January, and as we hit the field for games, nobody wore Nike under their uniforms. We wore Under Armour. We didn't wear a black long-sleeve compression shirt. We wore Under Armour. My T-shirt wasn't dirty; my Under Armour was in the laundry. You see where I'm going with this. If the brand and product are synonymous, you've got a good thing going.
In order for a company's brand to take over the world, it first must prove to be different, and then it must convince us all that it is better than its competitors. Under Armour found a niche -- performance shirts literally cut from a different cloth -- and began to convince us. As consumers, we agreed that the shirts were different, better, and cooler, and the company exploded into a business that now makes everything from fishing shorts to sunglasses.
Rule Makers: These things take time
This success didn't happen overnight. When Baltimore-based Under Armour produced its first T-shirt in 1996, I was in high school in New York, and I had no idea it existed. By the time I finished my senior year of college in Southern Virginia eight years later, not only did I know about Under Armour, but so did my younger brother up North.
In an effort to increase visibility in other parts of the country, the company has supplier contracts with college and professional sports teams, yielding tremendous opportunities for brand recognition. The teams go as far west as the University of Hawaii, and as far south as University of South Florida, and include 2011 BCS Champion Auburn. Perhaps more importantly, thanks to a new five-year contract, you can spot the brand in America's living rooms every Sunday from September through January, on the hands and feet of your favorite NFL players. (Barring a lockout, of course.)
As Fool co-founder Tom Gardner writes in The Motley Fool's Rule Breakers, Rule Makers, a prospective Rule Maker "must move one town at a time, with one foot in front of the other, one year after another -- an excruciating voyage."
Over the past 15 years, Under Armour has gone from small city T-shirt maker to nationwide player in the athletic apparel industry. The company goal as stated in its 2010 annual report is to be the "World's No. 1 Performance Athletic Brand." In short, it aims to become a Rule Maker.
What up-and-coming brands do you think are built to last? Share with your fellow Fools in the comments section below.