Congratulations! Your portfolio is perfect. The collection of companies that you have assembled is ... mwah, tres magnifique -- the perfect combination of bottle rocket and short wick. Celebrated investors like Warren Buffett, Peter Lynch, and David Gardner have you on speed dial. Riches beyond measure are just a few trading days away.

Now, I'd love to tell you that with a straight face. Really. I'd love to deny that I saw you nodding along with me just now. It's human nature, really. Every investor thinks he or she owns the best stocks. It's a bit like rooting for your alma mater's football team or cheering on that lottery ticket or roulette wheel. You think you've got a fighting chance to win -- or you wouldn't be there at all.

It's not hopeless. Beating the market is a lot easier than you think. It's just a matter of identifying the great growth stocks of tomorrow before the rest of the market comes around. Sound daunting? It isn't, really.

Best of breed in a flea-ridden world
By now, you've probably heard the expression "best of breed" countless times -- and you're probably wondering what it's all about. In the corporate software space, the phrase refers to cherry-picking the best applications that excel at a particular task. Instead of resorting to the integrated one-vendor solution suite, you assemble a hodgepodge of specialized brands. It's not the easy way out, but it is the best way.

When you think about it, investing is just like that. Even if your portfolio is heavily weighted toward a particular sector, or if there's a theme that resonates throughout your holdings, every stock you own is unique. To you, it was the best of its breed.

"Best of breed" has evolved in recent years. These days, it's the process of ferreting out the superior company in a particular sector. If you're talking about satellite radio, Sirius (NASDAQ:SIRI) is probably the first company that comes to mind; it's landed more net new subscribers than its only rival during each of the past five quarters. If premium soft drinks are the topic, it's hard to resist the bottled charm of Jones Soda (NASDAQ:JSDA) with its funky-colored fizz and photographic labels. (Expect to see more of the company now that it's hitting most major retailers with canned soda over the next few weeks.) And can you name another attorney services provider after Pre-Paid Legal (NYSE:PPD)?

The market rewards excellence. That's why finding these top performers is often a financially rewarding quest. What could be better than that? Well, for one, identifying these best-of-breed companies just as they begin to shine.

Finding great growth stocks early is the goal of our Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter service. It's not an intimidating process. Who here didn't know that Cintas (NASDAQ:CTAS) would have investors sitting pretty as it took advantage of a fragmented market with a history of spotty service -- workplace uniform rentals -- and became the only name that matters? Who here didn't know that Monster Worldwide (NASDAQ:MNST) would take the employee recruiting world by storm by digitizing the tired want ads through its vibrant job-hunting website? However, even if you weren't familiar with their models, you still could have warmed up to their income statements.

Decelerate at the sign of acceleration
Under Armour
(NYSE:UA) is a recent pick for Motley Fool Rule Breakers subscribers. You may know it for its moisture-controlling clothing that has taken pro sports by storm. Last year, it made the bold move of entering the athletic footwear market with its "click clack" cleats. Don't diss the shoes. Some of the best performers in recent years have been hot footwear makers.

How could investors have spotted something special in a company that specializes in outfitting winners on the playing field? You didn't have to dig a whole lot deeper than the top line here.

In 2005, Under Armour's revenues climbed an impressive 37%. Last year found the company going significantly higher. Back in July, the company delighted investors with the news that it would be growing its top line by roughly 46% in 2006. Things got even better in the second half of the year, with Under Armour's revenues ultimately marching 53% higher in 2006.

That's called accelerating growth. You just don't see it very often. Logic would dictate that as a company grows, it does so off a larger base of sales and earnings. That makes growth, on a percentage basis, more difficult to keep up with. Let's say a company produced revenue of $50 million one year, then $100 million the next. That's a cool 100% growth in revenue. If it clocks in at $160 million the following year, that $60 million more in sales is even better than the $50 million it generated a year earlier. However, on a sales-growth basis, it would simply mark a 60% improvement from the previous year's $100 million sum.

Sometimes accelerating growth shows its welcome face over the course of a single year. Let's take a look at how online retailer grew its top line last year:

Year-Over-Year Sales Growth

Q1 2006


Q2 2006


Q3 2006


Q4 2006


20%? 22%? 24%? 34%? It's a welcome trend, especially as the company headed into the seasonally potent holiday quarter. As big as Amazon is, the leading e-tailer is growing faster than a more nimble player like Red Envelope (NASDAQ:REDE).

The stock pick of the litter
A recent top-line accelerator has been Secure Computing. The computer security specialist had a respectable year in 2005. It grew revenues by 17% as companies took to Secure's online solutions.

Things got dramatically better in 2006. Secure Computing's top line soared 62% higher.

Under Armour and Secure Computing share something else beyond a refreshingly potent case of accelerated growth. Both stocks have been singled out over the past year as Rule Breakers recommendations.

Of course, it helps if you understand why growth is accelerating. Whether it's an established company with a suddenly vibrant new product (iPod, anyone?) or a promising upstart bent on rewriting the rules (like Amazon), knowing a little about the disruptive shift that's taking place helps. However, you can always lean back on the income statement. Organic acceleration in sales growth is nothing to scoff at.

If you don't want to screen for success alone, why don't you join us in the Rule Breakers community? We're doing just that around the clock -- and now you can kick the tires for free as part of a 30-day free trial.

Congratulations! Your portfolio is perfect -- perfectly waiting for you to take the next step in market enlightenment.

This article was originally published Sept. 12, 2005. It has been updated.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns a cocker spaniel, but no shares in any of the companies in this story. Amazon is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Secure Computing and Under Armour are Rule Breakers choices. Rick is a member of the Rule Breakers analytical team, seeking out the next great growth stock early in its stage of defiance. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.