VF (NYSE:VFC) is one of those companies that seems to operate behind the scenes -- its name isn't exactly a household name, but it happens to be the name behind many brands that are. VF's large portfolio of clothing brands is doing quite well, helping the company report a solid third quarter.

If you check our Fool by Numbers, you'll see that the company bested analysts' earnings expectations for the quarter, with earnings per share increasing 11.5% and sales up by 11.6%. Although gross margins improved, operating margins dipped, which the company attributed to investments in its brands as well as "other actions supporting future revenue and earnings growth."

VF's brands are the thing, and it has a lot of strong ones. It's the name behind Lee and Wrangler jeans. It also distributes North Face, Vans, Nautica, and intimate apparel lines like Vanity Fair and Lily of France. These are just a few of the brands in its portfolio.

In addition to distributing its brands through retailers (Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) is its largest customer, representing almost 16% of its sales in 2005), it also has some retail stores of its own -- it opened 21 stores in the quarter, bringing its grand total to 560. The success of these can be seen at some of its brand-retail stores -- same-store sales at its North Face and Vans stores increased more than 20% in the quarter, while Nautica had a 7% improvement in comps.

The successful quarter led VF to increase its fourth-quarter guidance -- it now expects earnings up 11% and revenues up 8%.

The retail universe can be uncertain, and most of the well-known retailers are already heavily followed, so sometimes it might make more sense to dig for value in the lesser-known companies that supply many retailers with name-brand apparel -- companies like VF, Volcom (NASDAQ:VLCM), or Liz Claiborne (NYSE:LIZ). The retail stores that VF is opening to help shore up the growth of its hottest brands are interesting, too. The move not only opens up another sales channel, but also helps those brands gain further exposure.

There's plenty to like about VF, particularly its dividend, which was one of the reasons it was recommended to Motley Fool Income Investor subscribers last summer. But it may not be a bargain at these levels. It may be a tried-and-true performer, but it still expects low double-digit earnings growth on average over the next few years. Therefore, the fact that VF trades at 14 times forward earnings gives reason to pause right now. On the other hand, it's certainly an interesting stock for investors to keep an eye on.

For more on VF Corp., check out the following Foolish articles:

VF is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Volcom is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool's disclosure policy even comes in acid-wash.