Though Under Armour's (NYSE:UAA) sustained growth over the past several years has proved extraordinary, many investors believe the performance apparel specialist is just getting started. When Under Armour recently reported its 17th consecutive quarter of achieving at least 20% top-line growth, for example, company executives offered plenty of color on the company's future direction. Here are five of management's most important takeaways from that call.
2014 is "pivotal" for diversification
First, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank weighed in on how the company is reducing its reliance on performance apparel:
[F]ive pieces of our business [...] are bringing diversity to our story: Footwear, Women's, Connected Fitness, Direct-to-Consumer, and International. We've been investing in each of these growth drivers to varying degrees over the past several years, empowered by the continued strong growth in our North American Apparel business. [...] As we reach the midpoint of our fiscal year, we believe we will all look back on 2014 as a pivotal year in our diversification, one where we built solid foundations in these newer businesses.
To be sure, sales from Under Armour's apparel segment grew 35% year over year last quarter to $420 million, representing nearly 69% of Under Armour's total revenue. That's great in its own right, but it's encouraging that management knows it's simply not a good idea to place too many eggs in one basket.
Footwear is finally sprinting higher
Under Armour technically jumped into footwear with its first football cleat way back in 2006, and then followed in 2008 with a line of performance trainers. However, Plank notes, footwear has been slow to take off until now:
In the first six months of 2014, our revenue number for Footwear was $223 million, just slightly less than the $239 million we did in the full year of 2012. So it took six months of this year to accomplish what we did for the full year in 2012. [...] We believe we will look back on 2014 as the year we transition from a company learning how to make great shoes into a truly disruptive voice in the global footwear market.
Plank later took take a jab at Nike (NYSE:NKE) -- which generated more than $4.4 billion in footwear sales last quarter alone -- by insisting they're "continuing to hunt down becoming the No. 1 athletic footwear brand in the world." But if Under Armour can eventually achieve even half of Nike's current footwear revenue run rate, investors will be handsomely rewarded.
Under Armour has huge plans for its Women's business
Under Armour is also working to reframe its status as primarily a male-centric brand. Women's apparel last year grew to around $500 million, compared with total apparel sales of over $1.76 billion. Plank elaborated using Under Armour's flagship Soho, N.Y., store as an example of how that's changing:
When you walk in, I think you're probably overwhelmed with the breadth of Women's products, the amount of color, the size, the diversity, probably sophistication that a lot of people didn't expect from us with our brand. And it's really allowed us to elevate ourselves and take it to a place and reinforce the theory that we had that we can be a viable Women's business and that someday, Women's can be as large [as], if not bigger than, our Men's business.
In particular, Plank explains that the company has seen a trend of women "increasingly wearing more athletic product outside of the gym" and has ramped up its female sponsorships to include the likes of Olympic snowboarder Lindsey Vonn and ballet dancer Misty Copeland. It introduced a deal with supermodel Gisele Bundchen with this compelling ad last week:
Direct-to-consumer is Under Armour's "best" way to reach new customers
Next, equally crucial to Under Armour's growth is its direct-to-consumer business, which represented nearly one-third of all sales last quarter. According to Plank:
We look at Direct-to-Consumer as not only a source of revenue growth, but as our best opportunity to bring the UA brand to a new consumer, whether that's a 25-year-old athletic female in our Soho store or a 14-year-old future Premier League player, which just happens to live now in London, Sao Paulo, or Singapore. We're being strategic about this enormous opportunity to bring the UA brand to a much more diverse consumer.
In short, direct-to-consumer not only sports higher margins by allowing Under Armour to cut out the middleman, but also gives it the flexibility to more freely experiment with merchandising and flow of products through its own doors. This allows Under Armour to carefully craft its message to target specific groups of consumers both domestically and abroad.
International growth will hurt margins ... for now
Finally, around 92% of Under Armour's revenue still comes from North America. One one hand, this means Under Armour enjoys an enormous opportunity for growth internationally.
One the other hand, Under Armour CFO Brad Dickerson reminded investors that growth will come at a cost. Specifically, he stated, "For the fourth quarter, our forecast for lower year-over-year gross margins reflects a higher mix impact of our International business, which is more weighted toward lower-margin distributor businesses during the period." [Emphasis mine.]
But international sales don't have to crimp Under Armour's margins indefinitely. In fact, 80% of the new, higher-margin Brand House DTC locations Under Armour is building this year are located overseas. In addition, the performance of Under Armour's Latin America business benefited in last quarter's year-over-year comparisons because Under Armour converted its Mexico distributor into a direct subsidiary at the beginning of this year. After the initial ramp in future overseas markets, Under Armour could potentially boost its business by doing the same with other international distributors.
Under Armour has enjoyed enviable growth in recent years. But given management's comments that I've shared, investors should be excited the company has no intention of resting on its laurels. Assuming Under Armour is successful in diversifying its product base, building a larger direct-to-consumer business, and growing overseas, I see no reason patient, long-term investors won't be handsomely rewarded if they choose to continue holding Under Armour stock from here.
Steve Symington owns shares of Apple and Under Armour. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple, Nike, and Under Armour. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.