Employees working the counter at Stilwell Hardware Inc. The owners said reliable internet access is important for many of their business functions.

Employees working the counter at Stilwell Hardware Inc. The owners said reliable internet access is important for many of their business functions.


Rick and Tracy Roberts could probably run Stilwell Hardware Inc. without internet service — but not for very long, Rick said. The local hardware store’s inventory, point-of-sale and security systems are all cloud-based and rely on a stable internet connection to function, so the Robertses were excited when they found out OzarksGo was bringing its fiber-optic network to town.

OzarkGo, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ozarks Electric Cooperative, brought service to the city after a cable provider pulled out of town.

“We were doing backflips when we discovered OzarksGo was coming in our area,” Tracy said on a recent Thursday morning, sitting in one of two white rocking chairs on display in the front of the store. “We signed up as soon as we could. The internet is way faster. It’s been solid and reliable, so that’s been a huge bonus for us.”

The hardware store was founded in 1939 by John Smay and Vance Hill, and has been through a series of owners — including Jack and Joyce Smay, who ran the store from 1972 to 2004 and still stop by to help out. The Robertses bought the store in 2010.

“When we bought the store, it had been closed for two years, so it was an existing store but it was also a new store,” Rick said. “I was blown away by how grateful people were to have it open.”

From left: Jack and Joyce Smay, the previous owners, and Rick and Tracy Roberts, the current owners.

From left: Jack and Joyce Smay, the previous owners, and Rick and Tracy Roberts, the current owners.

Located on Second Street near downtown Stilwell, the store carries a range of hardware, tools, electric and plumbing supplies and lawn and garden goods. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the store primarily served business and government customers, Tracy said.

However, they have seen an increase in homeowners and DIYers shopping at the store since the pandemic caused supply-chain issues for online retailers and made crowded big-box retailers seem more dangerous, she said. The store’s catalogue is on its website, and customers can call in to place an order and request curbside pickup.

The Robertses said almost every aspect of their business is somehow connected to the internet.

They have a cloud-based inventory and point-of-sale system, so when they make a sale, place an order or take a delivery, their inventory is automatically updated. They use the internet to stream product training and employee training videos, and to remotely monitor their security system. They also use the internet to access parts suppliers’ systems, so they can look up an equivalent part number for a small engine repair, for example.

Tracy said the service they had before OzarksGo would often go down, leaving them unable to look up parts or take credit card payments.

“We would literally have to tell our customers, sorry, but the system is down or our internet is down,” she said. “Obviously that’s very inconvenient.”

In addition to the quality of the service, the Robertses also said they appreciated the price — their monthly bill for telephone and internet service was cut nearly in half when they switched to OzarksGo — and especially the fact that OzarksGo is a local company with ties to the community. Some of their employees have gone on to work for Ozarks Electric, and Tracy’s father is a retired Ozarks Electric lineman.

“I guess you could say she’s an Ozarks baby,” Rick joked.

The Robertses are planning to move the business into a new, larger building near the Stilwell Walmart, and explore additional offerings such as a garden center. One thing that won’t change, though, is their internet provider. The new building is in an area served by OzarksGo.


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