Lululemon Athletica (LULU -2.04%) is the ultimate enigma to investors. On one hand, this is a company that has delivered consistent growth on its top and bottom lines while creating an extremely loyal following. On the other hand, it's a company that has had to endure one embarrassment after another, from too-sheer yoga pants to a phony job ad to a former employee's tell-all experience about the oddities of Lululemon management.
Just when you think Lululemon has reestablished its growth path and headwinds have passed, something comes up. And just when you think the company is buried too deep in negative PR for a comeback, it indeed comes back.
And so the cycle continues. In this case, it's on the positive side ... potentially.
The key concept here is that Lululemon is offering attire that can be worn in any atmosphere, from the gym to the boardroom to the bar. Doubters will say that wearing the same clothing throughout the day -- after sweating in that clothing -- is disgusting. This is a valid point. However, not everyone will choose to sweat in this attire.
Ready, set, &Go
Based on Lululemon's history, there are certainly going to be many doubters about its newest initiative, which goes by the name '&Go.' This new brand targets women who wake up early, go to work, exercise at some point during the day, and then go out at night. Of course, that's very specific, and it's likely that any loyal Lululemon customer will consider &Go for their wardrobe regardless of their daily schedule.
The &Go brand has 12 products thus far, and half of them sold out within hours. That's a good sign. The only negative is that Lululemon didn't anticipate the correct demand and didn't maximize its potential. But Foolish investors don't care about opening-day results, instead focusing on the long term.
What's most important here is that Lululemon was the leader, not the follower. At least it would seem that way.
Gap (GPS 4.17%) launched its Athleta brand partially because it saw how well Lululemon was doing with its yoga attire and wanted a piece of the pie. Gap has generated $1.7 billion in operational cash flow over the past year. This gives it much more potential (marketing, innovation, consumer insights) than Lululemon, which generated just $261.7 million in operational cash flow over the past year.
Like Lululemon, Athleta sells women's dresses, skorts, and skirts. Despite Athleta's quality being very similar to Lululemon, and more affordable, Athleta hasn't gotten the word out nearly as well. For instance, were you aware of the fact that Athleta sells these items? Better yet, did you know that Athleta exists?
Lululemon is also selling men's workout attire, which pits it against Under Armour (UAA -1.70%). When it comes to this competition, Under Armour has a clear advantage, simply because it primarily targets a male audience. Lululemon is seen primarily as a female brand, and it will take a lot of marketing and time for that perception to change.
Over the past year, Lululemon has grown its top line approximately 8.8%. Not bad, but Under Armour has grown its top line by 16.2% over the same time frame. In addition to that, while Lululemon has grown its bottom line about 3%, Under Armour has seen 22.2% bottom-line growth over the past year.
The one selling point for Lululemon over Under Armour is that it's trading at just 26 times earnings, whereas Under Armour is trading at 81 times earnings.
There's one other important factor to consider here. Earlier this quarter, Lululemon CFO John Currie stated: "We were on track to deliver on our sales and earnings guidance through the month of December; however, since the beginning of January, we have seen traffic and sales trends decelerate meaningfully."
Therefore, while &Go might offer long-term potential, it's not likely to benefit this quarter much.
The Foolish takeaway
Lululemon has a habit of surprising investors in positive and negative ways. Fortunately, its branding has been strong, which has helped lead to a loyal following despite premium prices over Athleta. Adding the &Go brand should provide another long-term revenue stream. On the other hand, this quarter's results might disappoint. Investors might want to see what happens on March 27 prior to making any investment decisions. But please do your own research prior to making any of those investment decisions.