Investing isn't easy. Even Warren Buffett counsels that most investors should invest in a low-cost index like the S&P 500. That way, "[You'll] be buying into a wonderful industry, which in effect is all of American industry," he says.

But there are, of course, companies whose long-term fortunes differ substantially from the index. In this series, we look at how members of the S&P 500 have performed compared with the index itself.

Step on up, Lowe's (NYSE: LOW).

Lowe's shares have simply crushed the S&P 500 over the last three decades, with most of the outperformance occurring early last decade:

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Since 1980, shares returned an average of 18.2% a year, compared with 11.1% a year for the S&P (both include dividends). That difference adds up really fast. One thousand dollars invested in the S&P in 1980 would be worth $29,400 today. In Lowe's, it'd be worth $209,000.

Now have a look at how Lowe's earnings compared with S&P 500 earnings:

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Again, significant outperformance. Since 1995, Lowe's earnings per share have grown by an average of 15.3% a year, compared with 6% a year for the broader index.

What's it all meant for valuations? Lowe's has traded for an average of 23 times earnings since 1980 -- not much higher than the broader S&P 500.

Through it all, Lowe's shares have clearly been outperformers over the last three decades.  

Of course, the important question is whether that will continue. That's where you come in. Our CAPS community currently ranks Lowe's with a four-star rating (out of five). Do you disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, or add Lowe's to My Watchlist.

Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Follow him on Twitter @TMFHousel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended writing covered calls on Lowe's Companies. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.