As my Foolish colleague Ryan Fuhrmann recently discussed, Dick's Sporting Goods (NYSE:DKS) faces a plethora of competition in the sporting goods biz. In addition to the typical sporting goods retailers, including the private Sports Authority and Hibbett Sports (NASDAQ:HIBB), Dick's must also compete with the big-box retailers Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Target (NYSE:TGT). Yet, despite the daunting task of fending off opponents from every angle, it has shown tremendous growth and has rewarded investors handsomely.

During its annual growth conference hosted by William Blair & Company last week, management from Dick's discussed how the company has been able to develop such impressive growth and how it expects to sustain that growth going forward.

The point that the company really tries to drive home is that it focuses on the core athlete and outdoor enthusiast almost exclusively. Management feels this approach has been vital to its success. It also stressed its private brands, which consist of brands to which it has licensing rights and brands it has developed internally and through acquisition. Finally, the company has enhanced its marketing program with a new low-cost approach that still delivers top athletes promoting its stores.

Growth from the core
Throughout the conference, management stressed the fact that Dick's is a company focused on providing all the sporting goods needs for the core athlete and outdoor enthusiast. It was clear in its desire to separate itself from the mall-based retailers, which it considers to be nothing more than fashion retailers. Management believes it can provide more predictable results by focusing on the athlete rather than the fashion side of the business.

A quick glance at the company's website certainly demonstrates its desire to cater to the athlete, rather than the consumer who's simply looking for the latest style of shoes and apparel. The home page flashes from a swimmer to a youth football team to a golfer to people on a boating adventure. The action shots make it clear Dick's expects athletes to put its products to good use.

It makes sense that this approach would enable a more reliable tendency toward growth. Trends are constantly fading in and out of style, but there will always be a need for updated sports equipment. Further, those customers more interested in style than substance still have plenty of options for cool gear at Dick's.

Separating from the competition
Another key factor to the success of Dick's has been its focus on private brands. By developing its own brands, it provides customers with products they can't find anywhere else. In fact, only about 10% of its SKUs overlap with those of the mass merchants.

Dick's has the rights to Schlesinger in the United States, around which it has developed a complete golf brand. It also licenses the Umbro brand in the United States, giving it the right to design products for the well-known European soccer brand. Its recent acquisition of Golf Galaxy, which operates 75 stores, automatically puts Dick's in the leader's group in the game of golf.

Its private brands accounted for 14.1% of its total sales in 2006, jumping 220 basis points. The goal for Dick's is to get that percentage above 15%, and its Golf Galaxy acquisition should quickly push it over that threshold.

Marketing its wares
Another successful portion of Dick's game plan is its updated marketing strategy. Dicks has revamped its marketing plan over the past 18 months. By reallocating its distribution from newspaper and into TV, online, and direct mail, it has increased its presence without increasing its overall spending.

Dick's has developed partnerships with ESPN and the Golf Channel on a national marketing scale. Through its relationship with ESPN, Dick's has access to a variety of television, radio, and magazine outlets. Its arrangement with the Golf Channel has positioned Dick's as the exclusive sponsor for 18 PGA tour events. This July, the Dick's Sporting Goods Open will make its debut. There's also obviously a natural tie-in for its recently acquired Golf Galaxy business.

Additionally, through partnerships with other business, including Nike (NYSE:NKE), Dick's is able to keep marketing costs in check while creating acclaim-worthy commercials. Through its teaming arrangements, Dick's is able to feature typically pricey athletes like Alex Rodriguez in its commercials without having to pay the athlete. The commercial advertised a shoe sold exclusively at Dick's. At $100 a pair, it quickly became the company's top-selling shoe.

Opportunities to grow
Dick's has clearly been successful in implementing strategies that have led it to impressive growth. It has consistently increased sales, margins, and earnings. In turn, shareholders have been rewarded from day one of Dick's going public. In just the past year, the stock has jumped about 45%.

In an effort to continue those trends, Dick's plans on growing its stores by 15% per year. At that rate, it expects to have about seven years of organic growth to get to about 800 locations nationwide. While that certainly seems ambitious, an examination of its locations nationwide shows plenty of opportunities to enter new markets, particularly out West.

To further emphasize its expansion potential, Dick's provided a chart illustrating the market share of the top five companies in certain segments. For example, the top five discount stores account for more than 70% market share, followed by consumer electronics at more than 50% and home improvement above 45%. Next is office supply, with the top five representing 20% of the market. Naturally, the point is proven with the last bar on the graph, which shows that the top five sporting goods retailers account for just 17% of total market share. Obviously, Dick's believes it will be able to increase that number through expansion and acquisitions.

Dick's will have to be careful about managing its aggressive growth plans. Expanding into new territory is never easy, and acquisitions don't always go smoothly. However, Dick's has already proven victorious in its acquisition of Galyan's, and its purchase of Golf Galaxy is off to a good start. While I think it's destined for a few stumbles along the way, I wouldn't bet against Dick's and its ambitious goals.

For more on the performance of Dick's, check out:

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Fool contributor Mike Cianciolo owns shares of Wal-Mart, but none of the other companies in this article.