Shares of uniform-rental firm Cintas (NYSE:CTAS) traded down after market-close yesterday, after the company released fourth-quarter sales that lagged analysts' projections. It's too bad that the market isn't cheering another year of impressive earnings and sales growth. Of course, for potential purchasers of Cintas' stock, that may not be such a bad thing.

For the fourth quarter, Cintas reported overall sales growth of just more than 12%, while earnings grew almost 11%. For the year, those same income statement items grew 11% and 9%. Those figures aren't extremely high, but Cintas has nonetheless now grown sales and earnings for 37 consecutive years. How many companies can claim that feat?

Cintas possesses great historical growth and very strong levels of operating cash flow. And when you factor out capital expenditures, free cash flow is also high -- close to reported net income. The company is also acquisitive, but Fools don't always consider that a traditional input when calculating free cash flow. Given recently released 2006 figures, I estimate that Cintas will have to grow free cash nearly 14% a year for the next ten years to justify the current stock price.

The implied growth is aggressive but not inconceivable, given Cintas' track record. Major inputs include a 13% discount rate and 3% terminal growth rate. That valuation model might even be conservative, due to a higher discount rate and the estimation that growth will immediately fall to a terminal rate after ten years. If I calculate a gradual, five-year slowing of growth, the shares are probably about 10% undervalued, assuming that you believe the inputs are reasonable. I always recommend performing a sensitivity analysis for any modeling; it's a useful exercise to see whether the market is underestimating a company's growth prospects.

Cintas seems accurately priced in the marketplace, which stems considerably from its highly visible, consistent track record of sales, earnings, and cash flow growth. Sure, it spends most free cash flow making acquisitions, but its return on invested capital arguably exceeds the costs to obtain that capital, implying a fair amount of annual value creation for shareholders.

As the clear leader in an industry which includes the likes of Aramark (NYSE:RMK), G&K Services (NASDAQ:GKSR), and Unifirst (NYSE:UNF), Cintas is a worthy addition to any Fool's all-star stock list. But there are also companies that transcend their industry, earning comparisons with the world's most successful firms for their profitability and stellar track records. Cintas is one of those firms, a company that other managers should look to emulate.

Like most great companies, Cintas can rarely be found at bargain-basement prices. However, it currently trades near the low end of its earnings multiple ranges of the past five years. Depending on how the stock reacts tomorrow after yesterday's short-term worries over sales growth, a savvy Fool may want to consider placing some chips on the table.

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Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann has no financial interest in any company mentioned. Feel free to email him with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned further. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.