Lake & Land Trading Co.’s owners are making a living out of their love for lake life.

June 22, 2023
The pandemic prompted Todd and Stacy Hempen to open a store by the lake.
Photos: Kristen Blacksher

Todd and Stacy Hempen exchanged a knowing look on a drive back from their second home in Osage Beach on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. They were headed back to Tulsa — a four-hour drive — after a weekend with morning coffee and water views on the deck. A slower pace of life.

Thougths of, “We should just live in our happy place,” whirled around in their heads.

Hempen had been in retail for over 30 years, including a long run at Bass Pro Shops and later in a consulting role where he helped a Spokane, Washington, casino design, build, plan and merchandise a retail addition. “That started the inspiration,” Hempen shares. “I should be doing this for myself.”

Meanwhile, the pandemic had shot up home sales and property prices in the Osage Beach area. “The lake had gone through expansive growth from home sales — people moving out of their markets into the center of the U.S. — and there was more than $2 billion in home sales during COVID,” says Hempen.

Lake & Land Trading Co. is described as a boutique outfitter with items ranging from decor to outdoor gear.

It wasn’t only the Hempens who were choosing to turn their vacation home into their main home. “For 10 years, there was only one permanent resident in our subdivision with eight houses, and now four of the homes are permanent residents here.”

So the Lake of the Ozarks market was ripe for more retail, the average household income had increased, and Hempen was ready to take the plunge and open his dream store: Lake & Land Trading Co. The store carries ladies and men’s apparel, footwear, lake decor, fishing and hunting products, and outdoors-focused items.

“We have coined ourselves as a boutique outfitter,” says Hempen, adding that targeting the lake customer is different than a coastal audience. And as an interior lake surrounded by woods, the vibe is also different than communities along the Great Lakes, for example.

The aesthetic “tends to be more on the cabin-ish side — bare wood and more rustic,” Hempen describes.

So much to see

Hempen found a storefront in a complex among other retailers. The property features 15-foot glass garage doors that open up to welcome guests into a 3,000-square-foot space that is “cross merchandised to the hilt.”
“We create spaces that are segmented by classification and we cross merchandise those areas,” he explains. “So, an area where we sell coffee is surrounded by mugs, coffee scoopers and decor that speaks to coffee, but we have coffee and mugs in other areas of the store.”

Another example: barware includes home decor items, and the home goods area also incorporates barware.
Hunting and fishing products stand on their own and are not intermingled with lake-focused and apparel/footwear products. And Hempen is constantly changing up displays, switching up the floor at least every 45 days in the year-round shop.

“It’s nice to get up in the morning, look at the lake, open the laptop, have coffee and start business.” — Todd Hempen

“People come in and say, ‘You have so much more,’ or, ‘You expanded,’ and it’s like, not really. We got in a dozen new ladies’ tops and we switched it all up,” Hempen says.

The downside to cross merchandising, says Hempen, is that sometimes you can do so “to a degree you can lose things.” In other words, customers might not realize you carry an item because it is nestled into a category where they are not focused. But mostly the strategy is beneficial, and Hempen says the average shopper’s visit is at least 45 minutes and basket size is generally five to 10 items.

But don’t expect a discount at Land & Lake Trading Co. “We do not discount or offer clearance deals,” Hempen says. Pricing items fairly allows products to turn without having to run sales. Apparel averages $40 for women’s and $50 for men’s, and lake-themed decor ranges from $10 to several hundred, depending on the product. The average customer is age 40 to retirement and owns a second home or permanent residence on the lake.

For the love of lake life

As for lake-focused products, Hempen says customers are after cabin and paddles, old boats and lake nostalgia themes. Because lake life includes entertaining and kicking back, there are plenty of products that speak to this vibe. The store carries custom carvings on whiskey barrel tops that say, “Lake of the Ozarks,” and other handmade items include a decorative rock with the phrase “Gone Fishing.” Wooden wall bottle openers include phrases like “In dog beers, I’ve only had one!”

Tea towels by Primitives by Kathy bear tongue-in-cheek sayings, and overall Hempen enjoys hearing customers cruise around the shop and get a good laugh. “We have developed so many friendships with people who come to the store,” he says. The store offers a social experience beyond retail that keeps people coming back for more, he adds.

Also, customers appreciate the labels that Land & Lake Trading Co. carries. Those include Lucky Brand jeans, Chinese Laundry ladies’ footwear, Lodge Cast Iron cookware, Torched candles made from beer bottles and growlers, and Kanga Coolers insulated cases. Customers can also find BruMate insulated can coolers, toddy containers, bottle coolers and pints.

“We carry paddles that have the lake engraved with the coordinates, and we also have products like bath salts and soaps,” Hempen says, noting that food products also make nice gifts and speak to the outdoors: spicy pecans and hot honey.

For the backyard, the shop offers hammocks, fire pits, lake floats and boat accessories. A selection of beach towels in the $30 price point are easy additions to other purchases.

Custom signs by Brayden & Brooks include lake-inspired messages. And, of course, the shop offers pillows that say things like, “The lake is my happy place.” Indeed for the Hempens, it is — and business continues to grow and thrive. After opening Labor Day weekend of 2021, he’s proud that “I have not had a single upset customer in this store.”

“They come here to be in a happy place,” he explains, adding that he couldn’t agree more.

“It’s nice to get up in the morning, look at the lake, open the laptop, have coffee and start business,” he says.