NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- VF Corp. (VFC) , the owner of mall staples the North Face, Timberland, and Wrangler, has historically grown by making splashy acquisitions of underperforming brands. The problem now is that there are few good brands, either in the U.S. or abroad, that are willing to sell.
"There is a little bit of frustration because we have a balance sheet that we know we can lever, and we have skill sets that we have demonstrated over time," said VF Senior Vice President and CFO Bob Shearer in an interview.
The solution for now, however, is to just keep in on innovating with the brands it already owns.
"We have just never been in a better position related to new products," said Shearer, who is retiring in March after nearly 30 years with VF.
Shearer said two of the company's newer product lines are ready to prevent any slowdown from VF's lack of new acquisitions. The first is the Thermoball line from the North Face.
The Thermoball line originally launched with a transitional lightweight jacket two years ago. Now the line includes scarves, gloves, and shoes. Thermoball has already raked in a total of $100 million in global revenue.
Thermoball also addresses VF's desire for the North Face to be an all-year brand, not one that is just known for its black fleece jackets and puffy down coats. According to Shearer, Thermoball is undergoing a further expansion into more women's products, as well as hooded and longer-length jackets.
There is also a cost advantage to manufacturing Thermoball, which is stuffed with fiber that is the warmth equivalent of 600 fill-power down.
"Down is getting a little tougher to get. The expense is going up", Shearer said. A traditional Thermoball jacket retails for $199, or $220 with a hood.
The North Face's FuseForm line is still in its infancy. The construction of a FuseForm jacket uses a single piece of fabric which is then folded and stitched together. The fabrics are made from a blend of varying strength yarns. Like Thermoball items, FuseForm coats reduce VF's reliance on down. After positive consumer response in the fall to the $499 FuseForm ski jacket, the technology will appear in a lightweight jacket this spring.
Sales of the North Face brand in Asia rose 25% in the fourth quarter, with execs crediting strong consumer response to Thermoball and a "great initial response" by retailers to FuseForm.
VF recently opened three innovation centers tasked with finding the next big idea.
"These innovation centers are housed with people that don't think exactly like we think, and that's good," noted Shearer, who hinted that the efforts of these creative teams may lead to a new product line in 2016.
VF may be working on new products because it's taking a long time to find new companies to acquire.
VF has not made a splashy buy since completing its acquisition of boot and apparel maker Timberland for $2.3 billion in September 2011. And VF is itching to get something done if the price is right, with a particular appetite for brands in the outdoor and action-sports space. It's also OK with adding debt to get a deal done.
Shearer said, "We are looking really, really hard, but have to stay disciplined. "
Meanwhile, VF looks fine if it has to go it alone sans a major acquisition this year.
On Friday, the company reported fourth-quarter earnings per share of 98 cents, in line with Wall Street estimates. Sales came in at $3.54 billion vs. the $3.6 billion consensus estimate, weighed down 2% by currency fluctuation. The company gets about 38% of total sales and 60% of its net income from outside the U.S.
But excluding the impact of currency, the strength of VF's business was evident.
Gross profit margins expanded 80 basis points year over year to 49%, no small feat in the ultracompetitive holiday season. Sales at North Face, Vans and Timberland increased 14%, 20% and 15% in the quarter, respectively, when adjusting for currency. Even the U.S. jeans business, where VF sells brands like Lee and Wrangler to department stores and mass merchants, showed a sales improvement from earlier in the year despite the ongoing transition by women to knit bottoms such as yoga pants, joggers and jeggings.
VF credited its strong jeans business to new jeans it introduced in the fall that had a bit of stretch and felt less like denim, which led to more floor space at major retailers.
And the company's other plans? Shearer said, "What I would hope for as we look out, and based on the investments we are making, we will do a better job, and ahead of most, in terms of how we are building connections with consumers."
The exec singled out better uses of customer data and social media to drive those connections -- and, hopefully, more sales and profits.