From Lululemon to Nike, top-selling brands are no longer just making products for their customers. They're building entire brand identities around the products they sell — and it's working, CNBC's Jim Cramer said on Monday.
"In an increasingly fragmented society, lifestyle brands make you feel like you're part of something, maybe something larger than yourself," the "Mad Money" host said. "And people are willing to pay up for that sense of group identity."
Vans, a VF Corp. subsidiary that began as a skateboarders' shoe and apparel shop and has since become more mainstream, could be the next major lifestyle brand, Cramer said.
A hip, youth-oriented company popularized by its namesake shoes, Vans has long been influenced by street culture and subculture, hence its slogan, "Off the Wall."
Acquired by VF Corp., also the owner of Timberland and North Face, in 2004, Vans "has been growing like crazy" in recent years, Cramer said, adding that Vans is currently VF Corp.'s largest and fastest-growing brand.
"Now ... the parent company is spinning off its denim business — think Wranger and Lee jeans — so Vans will represent a bigger piece of the pie," he continued.
Just since 2004, Vans' sales have gone from $360 million to $3 billion, while its gross margins — what the company makes after the cost of goods sold — have grown form 48 percent to 60 percent.
How did management do it? Besides improving their production and distribution channels, namely making Vans products available for sale directly to consumers online, a lot of the growth came from their focus on the customers, Cramer said.
At an analyst meeting last week, Vans Brand President Kevin Bailey said his division "engaged in a really deep process to really understand everything there was to know about our consumers."
"As we talked to skaters, artists, musicians and street culture icons, we learned that they really just wanted to celebrate and share their self-expression," Bailey said.
Thanks to VF Corp.'s ability to take a relatively niche brand and broaden its appeal to millions of people, Vans has been consistently growing its revenue for over a decade. This fiscal year, Vans even managed to trounce VF Corp.'s sales estimates, hitting $3.4 billion in sales when the company only expected Vans to reach that level by 2021.
Renewed estimates peg Vans as being a $5 billion brand by 2023, but Cramer said it was possible even those estimates were too conservative given their international expansion and direct-to-consumer investments.
"Vans could soon become the third-largest lifestyle sports brand in the world behind Nike and Adidas," the "Mad Money" host said. "That's why I think VF Corp. is still a buy, even up here. They're not getting nearly enough credit for Vans, but once they spin off that jeans business, I think the remaining company will look a lot more attractive to growth-oriented money managers, particularly those who thought all it was was VF Corp. And I think it's a great buy into any tariff-related weakness that you know is coming down the pike."