When you buy a stock, you become a part owner of its business. The better that business performs over time, the more it is worth to its owners. And the greatest businesses of all make the best investments to own -- especially if you buy them before the world wakes up to realize their greatness.

The results from finding such great companies and investing in them can be incredible, even in otherwise staid and stable industries. If you can reliably identify and invest in those companies, you can build yourself an incredible nest egg to take yourself to -- and through -- your retirement.

Turning the retail world upside down
Take the case of Amazon.com (NAS: AMZN) , the Internet company that revolutionized retail. Before Amazon, the big thing in retail was Wal-Mart (NYS: WMT) , whose huge investments in logistics and related information systems enabled it to efficiently squeeze costs and lower prices. Yet even Wal-Mart's efficient operations struggle with the incredible power of Amazon's Internet-driven operations to offer low prices, an enormous selection, and a convenient shopping experience.

Sure, you need to wait a few days to get what you're buying delivered from Amazon. When all is said and done, though, is that any less convenient than spending an hour driving to and then navigating through a Wal-Mart Super Center only to discover that they don't have the exact item you're looking for?

Indeed, Amazon.com revolutionized a retail market once dominated by Wal-Mart, and as the graph below shows, Amazon's investors have been richly rewarded for it over the past decade:

anImage

Source: Yahoo! Finance, as of March 4. Assumes reinvested dividends.

Amazon has done so well in transforming the industry that the shares of formerly dominant Wal-Mart have barely kept pace with Kroger (NYS: KR) , a traditional grocer that traces its roots to 1883. There's certainly a place for all three -- as Kroger has mastered the art of mixing quality and value with local service -- but only Amazon has recently revolutionized the retail industry.

Indeed, the fact that Wal-Mart, still the titan among retailers, essentially flatlined during the decade and barely kept pace with old-school Kroger illustrates the incredible power of Amazon's innovations. The growth went to the company that led the industry transformation. The mind-blowing returns? Those went to the owners who bought Amazon while its incredible story was unfolding.

Can you find the next Amazon?
Of course, it's fairly easy to look back now and call Amazon one of the greatest companies of our time, but to have found it in or before 2002 and had the foresight and fortitude to hold it? That takes a special kind of investor -- one with both the insights to envision the future and the confidence to buck Wall Street's conventional wisdom. If you think you've got what it takes, here are a few of the things that made Amazon attractive back then that you'll want to look for in the next great company:

  • It was a "top dog" in an important, emerging industry: e-commerce.
  • It was building a sustainable advantage, as brick-and-mortar competitors like Wal-Mart largely flubbed online sales.
  • It had a strong brand that survived the dot-com implosion and was turning profitable.

Still, even with all that going for it, it would have taken some fortitude to buy Amazon in 2002, since:

  • It seemed expensive on backward-looking valuation metrics.
  • Its shares had already shot up, even as the rest of the Nasdaq remained in free fall.

 Those factors -- all of 'em, even the ones that seem counterintuitive to value-focused investors -- are what made Amazon attractive to The Motley Fool's own David Gardner, who did pick Amazon in 2002.

And lest you think that sort of thing is a fluke, those same factors led to David's 2005 selection of another incredibly transformative company, Intuitive Surgical (NAS: ISRG) . Dismissed by many in its early days as an expensive gimmick, an eye toward things like these would have made it clear that there was an incredible investment available in that company:

  • The potential of Intuitive's da Vinci robotic tools to launch "a surgical revolution."
  • The FDA-enabled monopoly that came with being the first approved player in the industry.
  • The recurring revenue streams from its accessory and instrument sales.
  • The company's profitability -- even back then.

And sure enough, Intuitive Surgical has been a rousing success for those who followed that pick. Once again, it shows what happens when an investor finds -- and buys -- a clearly transformational company before the world catches on to its potential.

Obviously, not every pick is as spectacular as Intuitive Surgical and Amazon have been, but just a handful of those spectacular winners can make up for those that don't quite live up to their potential.

Rinse and repeat -- with real money attached
Of course, it's one thing to pick a stock, and it's something else entirely to buy it. That's where Motley Fool Supernova comes in. It's the first Motley Fool service to exclusively feature David Gardner's picks, turned from newsletter recommendations to real-money portfolios. It's your chance to invest along with your fellow Fools in the very same transformative companies that have made David a living legend among growth investors.

If you're interested in learning more, simply enter your email address in the box below. There's no obligation, and it just might help you find and buy the next of the greatest businesses of our time.

At the time this article was published At the time of publication, Fool contributor Chuck Saletta did not directly own shares of any company mentioned in this article, but his wife owned shares of Kroger. Click here to see his holdings and a short bio.The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com and Wal-Mart Stores. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Intuitive Surgical, Amazon.com, and Wal-Mart Stores. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Wal-Mart Stores. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Copyright © 1995 - 2012 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Behavioral Finance

Why do investors make the decisions that they do?

View Course »

Managing your Portfolio

Keeping your portfolio and financial life fit!

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum