When it comes to the outdoor lifestyle retail segment, one company is the undisputed leader of the pack, VF Corp (NYSE:VFC). With popular brand names like The North Face, Timberland, and Vans, the global retailer has a stranglehold on the lucrative segment and only a few direct competitors, chief among them Columbia Sportswear (NASDAQ:COLM).
Although VF has a solid presence in many different product categories, the company's outdoor & action sports segment will remain its largest and most important one. Luckily for investors, the business is growing at robust rates and should continue to do so going forward.
The future for VF is outdoors:
Currently, VF Corp has 11 brands under its outdoor & action sports segment. However, the three most prominent names are The North Face, Timberland, and Vans.
In the company's most recently reported quarter, the outdoor & action sports category grew its revenue 14% and experienced double-digit growth in every region. The standout for the category was the Vans brand, which grew sales at an impressive 20% on a year-over-year basis. Sales for The North Face grew 14% and sales for Timberland grew 12% in the first quarter.
The strong performance of VF's signature category is especially important considering that outdoor & action sports accounted for $1.6 billion of the company's $2.4 billion of total revenue in the first quarter, or nearly 67%. Also important is that the segment showed well-rounded growth, as domestic and international markets experienced double-digit growth as did wholesale and direct-to-consumer channels.
The company's impressive first-quarter results have resulted in a guidance raise by VF management. The company's earnings release read:
Revenues for 2014 are now expected to increase at the high end of the previously provided 7 to 8 percent range. Second quarter revenues are expected to increase at a similar level to that of the first quarter, and again be driven primarily by strength from our outdoor & action sports coalition. For the full year, outdoor & action sports coalition revenues are now expected to be up 12 to 13 percent.
With all organic channels of growth doing well for VF's outdoor and action sports category, the time for the company to make an acquisition may be nearing. Small competitor Columbia Sportswear has been growing in a big way recently and could be a prime takeover candidate.
In its most recent earnings report, Columbia reported that its first-quarter revenue increased 22% to a record $424.1 million and net income jumped a staggering 120% to $22.3 million, or $0.63 per diluted share.
Columbia's Chief Executive Officer Tim Boyle explained, "Our outstanding first quarter results reflect robust demand for the Columbia and Sorel brands, especially across U.S. wholesale and direct-to-consumer channels, and the successful launch of our China joint venture. Wholesale demand for our Fall 2014 products has accelerated in many key markets around the world."
Columbia also announced that it was purchasing yoga company Prana Living in an effort to diversify its product lineup. As with VF, management at Columbia revised its forward-looking guidance upwards, partly on the benefits expected from the newly announced acquisition.
Management at Columbia now expects the company to grow fiscal 2014 sales in a range of 16%-18%. This compares favorably to VF's expected fiscal 2014 sales growth range of 7%-8%. This means that not only would Columbia's product lines mesh well with those of VF, the small company would also add significant sales momentum to the larger outdoor lifestyle retailer's portolio.
VF is sporting solid growth on the strength of its outdoor and action sports category. Management expects this sales momentum to continue going forward as its guidance suggests.
However, VF is also very much an acquisition-oriented company and there is perhaps no better fit for the retailer than the rapidly growing Columbia Sportswear right now. The recent success of both companies confirms that the outdoor retail segment is strong and both VF and Columbia should continue to do well going forward. However, together the companies could be even more successful. As always Foolish investors should do their own research before making any investment decisions.