Peter Lynch once said you should invest in companies whose products you use and whose names you recognize. In my case, that'd mean buying a boatload of


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Robert Mondavi


stock. Let me tell you why that's not such a bad idea.

No kidding, when I was growing up my father was a fanatic about our front lawn. He'd have me out there every day scouting for weeds, and mowing the darn thing twice a week. And although I hated it at the time, I gotta tell you, our front yard looked like the 18th hole at Pebble Beach. Toro can do the same thing for your portfolio, folks.

First off, the company has been working overtime to slim down. It's shutting down two plants and closing out some of its lower-margin product lines, as well as seeking out lower-cost parts suppliers. Operating margins have gained 120 basis points over last year.

Of course, if the economy stays soft and home sales drop, Toro could be in for a bad spell. But investors must realize that the bulk of sales come from contractors and landscapers, not individuals -- and that means the company is somewhat insulated from any looming downturn in the housing market.

That's because "field supplies," or equipment that was bought late last year in bulk by contractors, has been whittled down, putting us right in the midst of a new buying season that channel checks suggest should be robust. Also, Toro has introduced a number of new sprinklers into the commercial market. According to both management and retail accounts, these have been warmly received -- and could offset any weakness in the residential market.

Potential investors will be interested to know that the company trades at just 0.46 times sales, under two times book value, and at just 10 times management's fiscal 2002 guidance (of between $4.85 and $4.95 a share). That's darn cheap for a company that's expected to grow its earnings at an annual clip of 12% to 15% over the next five years.

So once you're done baking in your garden under the hot sun, it's time to settle down to something refreshing. Every Friday night, my wife and I have been having pizza and wine. And although we aren't too loyal when it comes to pizzerias, one thing is a constant -- we drink only Woodbridge White Zinfandel, which is made by Robert Mondavi wineries.

Even though I'm convinced I've probably added a couple of cents to Mondavi's bottom line over the last few years, the majority of its business doesn't come from people like me. In fact, almost 30% of its volume comes from restaurants. And I don't need to tell you that since Sept. 11 restaurant traffic is way down.

But Mondavi has hung in there pretty well. Thanks to increased promotional activity its total case volume has dropped by only a little over 7% from last year. And going forward, this coupled with management's efforts to improve the product mix (and skew it toward more high-priced, higher margin wines), should allow the company to post a high single-digit improvement in both revenue and earnings in 2003.

Value investors will also be eager to know that the company trades at just 1.2 times book value, 1.2 times sales, and 13 times trailing earnings. Again, that's cheap given that under more normal business conditions Mondavi would be generating fairly linear earnings growth of 15% or more.

So think for a little bit about whether Toro or Mondavi could be for you. Just don't go out and mow the lawn after you've been drinking.

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In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, Glenn Curtis doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Curtis welcomes your