Today's Walt Disney Company is a multimedia powerhouse known all over the world for its iconic characters and treasure trove of intellectual property. Not so back in 1957, when it was just beginning to formulate the structure that would position the company to dominate the entertainment industry in the decades to come.
The question is: Are there other companies out there that are positioning themselves so that it will pay off for investors far into the future?
With that in mind, we asked three Motley Fool investors to choose top companies that remind them of Disney at the beginning of its 60-year winning streak. They offered convincing arguments for Axon Enterprise, Inc. (NASDAQ: AAXN), Shopify (NYSE: SHOP), and Sprouts Farmers Market, Inc. (NASDAQ: SFM).
A stunning development
Rich Duprey (Axon Enterprise): The Disney of today is a mammoth entertainment complex, bringing together movies, TV shows, and theme parks, but in 1957 such a multifaceted enterprise was only just beginning to fulfill the promise all those tentacles held. In similar fashion, Axon Enterprise is only just beginning to realize the many possibilities inherent in its three-pronged attack of stun guns, body cameras, and evidence management software.
The foundation of Axon is its Taser-conducted electrical weapons, the ubiquitous less-than-lethal force found in virtually every major police department and in thousands of smaller departments. But now it's advancing through the body camera market, particularly with its acquisition of rival VieVu, and the tethered Evidence.com evidence management database.
Body cameras and software management are the future for Axon, though they account for just 37% of total revenue at the moment, which was the result of 66% growth in the quarter compared to 10% growth in Taser sales. The software and sensors segment will soon become the predominant stream in the immediate future.
With the acquisition of VieVu, Axon will own 80% of all big-city police department camera contracts, and will be in a much stronger position to gain the handful that remain. And it's the software side that will prove to be the stickiest, as once a department is brought into the web of having its evidence managed by Axon, it becomes difficult to extract itself from it.
Axon Enterprise stock doesn't come cheap, but it's perhaps worthwhile since it now owns both the body cam and stun gun field. Body cams are still a huge growth industry outside of the major departments that have already been conquered, and with the two biggest names under its umbrella, it's now a titan in the way Disney dominated the market back in the day.
Serving every aspect of e-commerce sales
Danny Vena (Shopify): One of the defining characteristics of the Disney of 1957 was the company's plan to create an interconnected library of characters that could be leveraged across a variety of mediums, making it more valuable than the sum of its parts.
Looking for a similar situation outside the entertainment industry, I immediately hit upon e-commerce facilitator Shopify. The company began as a platform designed to make it easy for small- and medium-size businesses to reap the benefits of website sales. Shopify supplies 100 different ready-to-use templates and over 2,300 apps that can be combined to create a custom website and user experience for any online store.
The company has become wildly successful by encouraging the next generation of entrepreneurs to join the e-commerce revolution, but Shopify didn't stop there, and offers a growing list of interconnected services that simplify nearly every aspect of the digital selling experience.
Shopify allows businesses to accept and process credit cards and is connected with all the major payment processors. It also offers discounted shipping rates for high-volume users and is integrated with the biggest third-party logistics services. The platform can accept and track orders and simplify selling across a multitude of sales channels including social media, marketplace, brick-and-mortar, and mobile. It also offers working capital loans secured by ongoing sales.
It's hard to argue with the company's success, with now boasts more than 609,000 merchants and counting in 175 countries worldwide. Some merchants have become so successful with Shopify that it was necessary to expand upmarket to serve the needs of enterprise level operations. The fruits of that labor, Shopify Plus, is now one of the fastest-growing facets of the company's business.
While Shopify's growth has slowed somewhat from its recent breakneck pace, it still delivered 68% year-over-year revenue growth and 64% gross merchandise volume (GMV) growth in its most recent quarter. It's important to note that the company is not yet profitable due to its continuing international expansion, but that's only a matter of time.
This combination of online sales platform, integrated payments and shipping, multichannel capability, and growing upmarket capability, Shopify might just be the Disney of e-commerce.
A future grocery powerhouse
Tim Green (Sprouts Farmers Market): Sales at U.S. grocery stores totaled nearly $700 billion in 2017. Sprouts Farmers Market, a chain of around 300 stores mostly in the southern and western United States, generated just $4.7 billion of sales last year. With plans to build roughly 30 new stores annually, Sprouts has room to grow for years to come.
What exactly is Sprouts? Picture Whole Foods, but with prices that don't make you openly weep. Sprouts' small-format stores put produce, bulk foods, and meat front and center. The company doesn't carry many national-brand grocery items, instead focusing on higher-quality, natural, and organic products. It also sells a full line of private-label grocery products.
I do most of my family's grocery shopping at Sprouts. The prices on produce and meat are better than even traditional supermarkets, and the quality is top-notch. I think the company has a bright future, but it's important to remember that the grocery business is brutal. Sprouts is putting up solid sales numbers, with 2.7% comparable sales growth in the first quarter and 14% overall sales growth thanks to new stores. It also cut its full-year sales guidance earlier this month. With the grocery business shifting online, competition is only going to get tougher.
Though Sprouts may be in a very difficult business, it differentiates itself with small stores, high-quality products, and low prices. I think the company has a lot of potential.
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Danny Vena owns shares of Shopify and Walt Disney and has the following options: long January 2019 $85 calls on Walt Disney. Rich Duprey has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Timothy Green has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Axon Enterprise, Shopify, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.