Companies don't generate market-beating growth by following the well-beaten path. Instead, they serve established markets in exciting, new ways. Lululemon Athletica (LULU 1.09%) is a great example of this. The apparel brand has created an economic moat by marketing a fitness lifestyle through its clothing. That strategy is generating massive growth and improving profitability, which is why its one of my top growth stocks to buy right now.
A post-pandemic winner
The coronavirus pandemic dramatically changed consumer behavior as people swapped out jeans or pantsuits for yoga pants and sweats while working from home. Lululemon has held its own during the crisis with sales growing 11% year over year in 2020 to $4.4 billion despite store closures and lockdowns.
That expansion has accelerated in 2021 as more people began to resume in-person shopping. The company today has 318 stores in the U.S., 62 in Canada, and another 154 internationally.
The retailer's fiscal second-quarter sales surged 61% year over year to $1.5 billion while earnings increased 141% to $1.59 per share. Lululemon is benefiting from the easing of pandemic restrictions in the U.S.; Brick-and-mortar store performance has returned to pre-pandemic levels much faster than anticipated, CEO Calvin McDonald said recently.
By contrast, the company's e-commerce business eked out 4% comparable growth in the fiscal second quarter vs. an astounding 157% sales growth in the prior-year period.
The future is bright
Lululemon is looking to maintain its overall momentum through international expansion efforts. The international business had revenues of $238 million in the second quarter -- and the company plans to quadruple that size by 2023 or sooner. Management is on track to open 35 to 40 new stores outside of North America this year.
The retailer is also pursuing what has been -- at least for Lululemon -- a relatively untapped opportunity in men's products. Currently, menswear provides just 25% of its revenue. Granted, Lululemon's brand is associated with femininity, which could make it a tougher sell to men. But the company's female customers help boost brand awareness among males.
In 2019, then-COO Stuart Haselden noted that women were responsible for around 40% of Lululemon's men's product sales. These items were likely gifted to boyfriends or husbands, introducing these men to the brand -- and potentially converting them to long-term customers. Lululemon also has an opportunity to better position itself as a gender-neutral brand in international markets.
A well-deserved premium
Management expects net revenue will land in the $6.19 billion to $6.26 billion range in fiscal 2021, which would represent a 42% increase from 2020 at the high end. The company also expects to grow its earnings per share by as much as 61% to $7.26.
At its current share price of around $424, Lululemon boasts a forward price-to-earnings multiple of roughly 58. No doubt, this valuation is significantly higher than the S&P 500's average of 34 or rival Nike's multiple of 37. But I believe Lululemon deserves its premium because it is at an early stage of a noteworthy expansion -- especially in international markets and among male consumers.