The more I analyze the footwear industry, the more I'm amazed at how many companies operate in the space. Perhaps that's understandable; without a shirt or shoes, consumers would be unable to get service at many of their favorite shopping destinations. So how does Skechers (NYSE:SKX) stack up against the competition?

Much like Wolverine World Wide (NYSE:WWW) and Stride Rite (NYSE:SRR), Skechers owns a number of stores in addition to designing and marketing its own footwear brands. That's in contrast to pure retailers such as Finish Line (NASDAQ:FINL) or Foot Locker (NYSE:FL), which solely sell other firms' shoes, or marketers and developers such as K-Swiss (NYSE:KSWS) or 800-pound gorilla Nike.

In terms of pure profitability, I noted in a recent write-up of Steve Madden (NASDAQ:SHOO) that the marketers have the upper hand, since they don't have to build or maintain physical stores. They can also earn revenue by licensing their brands to other firms. Unfortunately for Skechers, its average profitability over the past five years is more similar to that of shoe retailers than footwear designers -- but at least there's room for improvement.

In addition, Skechers' earnings and cash flow growth has been rather anemic. Over the past five years, earnings have shrunk 2.4% per year on average. Sales expansion has been better, running at a 5% clip over the same time frame. Results did pick up for the recently announced second quarter, as sales and net earnings grew almost 11%, but the stock took a hit as certain results lagged analyst expectations. The shares have since recovered, and management expects operating strength to continue into the third quarter.

Skechers shares have nearly doubled over the past year, now trading at 18 times trailing earnings and 16 times next year's estimates. With that increase in mind, it may be worth gravitating instead toward the marketers and designers in the footwear space, since they currently have a number of more appealing characteristics, including lower earnings multiples. That failing, I'd consider companies with marketing and retailing operations, though I'm not sold on the benefits of operating both.

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Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann is long shares of Nike, but has no financial interest in any other company mentioned. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy. Feel free to email Ryan with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned further.