Tranquility makes an appearance in the Columbia Daily Tribune

Tranquility was featured in the Saturday, October 23rd issue of the Columbia Daily Tribune.  We would like to thank the Tribune for giving us the opportunity to be featured in their publication and a big thanks goes out to all of our customers, past and present that have contributed to our success.

Routing the competition

Columbia Daily Tribune
Saturday, October 23, 2010

By Kris Hilgedick

Travis Schumacher, left, general manager of Tranquility Internet Services Inc., and Leon Schumacher, president, provide DSL high-speed Internet access for more than 1,500 customers  in Columbia.

Photo by Don Shrubshell | Buy this photo

A tinkerer by nature, Leon Schumacher’s interest in the Internet was piqued in 1996 when he had an epiphany on Thanksgiving weekend.


“I discovered I could put together a Web page,” he said. “It seemed like a golden opportunity for a small business to get a little more press, advertising and public relations … all the things a small business would want to have.”

At the time, Google didn’t exist, and America Online had only begun to sell its service.

Today, Schumacher is the president of Tranquility Internet Services Inc., a small Columbia-based provider he has led for 13 years. By working with area phone companies, Tranquility not only provides Internet connections for about 1,500 business and residential customers; it also hosts websites and co-locates servers.

Schumacher actually was a customer of Tranquility Internet Services first; the company was founded by Duane Burghard, who owns MacXprts Network in Columbia.

“Leon was one of Tranquility’s biggest and best customers,” Burghard said.

At the time, Tranquility was going through some difficulties.

“There wasn’t anything wrong with the business model,” Burghard said. “But we had mistaken the Internet business for the computer” sales “business. It’s really more like operating a phone utility. It wasn’t where our focus and expertise lay.”

At the time, Schumacher was curious about starting an Internet service provider but wasn’t sure he had the time. As a full-time professor in the University of Missouri’s Agricultural Systems Management program — a position he still holds — he was busy with biodiesel work and other college activities.

“I thought: Why shouldn’t we give this a try? The one thing I had going for me is I had a brother that worked for MCI, a long-distance phone company at the time,” Schumacher said. “He was teaching me how to use and program routers.”

In March 1997, after some legal issues were resolved, Burghard sold the business’s assets to Schumacher.

Burghard estimated he has spun off 14 businesses over the years, but Tranquility is the only one that has survived.

“That’s a direct tribute to Leon’s talent, ability and dedication,” Burghard said.

It was difficult in the beginning, Schumacher said.

To help finance the business, he put $10,000 of his own money in a CD and used it as collateral to secure a $15,000 loan and a $10,000 line of credit from First National Bank.

Schumacher first took the business to the Missouri Innovation Center, which was located on Sinclair Road. Eventually, he moved the business into an office at 19 S. Fourth St.

Today, Tranquility is housed in an office at 209 E. Green Meadows Road, Suite G. Schumacher manages the company with the help of his son, Travis Schumacher, and his daughter, Monica Pitts.

Travis Schumacher serves as general manager and handles the billing, books, sales and marketing. Pitts runs MayeCreate Design, a sister company to Tranquility that focuses on website design.

“We help people communicate on the Internet,” Travis Schumacher said.

Tranquility employs three others: Hunter Cook, Andrew Guyer and Josh Niemeyer.

“We’ve employed a lot of students along the way,” Schumacher said.

Like their father, Travis Schumacher and Pitts have an interest in agriculture.

Travis Schumacher earned a degree in agriculture business management at MU in 2005; Pitts earned a degree in general agriculture in 2003.

The three hold management meetings on Fridays at Lucy’s Corner Café, but Schumacher does most of his Tranquility work from home in the evening.

“Some guys like golf or hunting. Dad likes servers and routers,” Travis Schumacher said.

When Schumacher first encountered the Internet in the late 1980s, it was mostly used as a primitive e-mail system.

He said few people realize MU was very much involved in laying the groundwork for the Internet.

As different groups around the country established electronic “bulletin boards,” they realized the need to link them together. Eventually, it became the Web, he said.

Schumacher has watched as bandwidth has increased in leaps and bounds, allowing faster and faster download speeds.

Years ago, a customer might be happy to have higher-speed dial-up. In 2000, digital subscriber lines, or DSL, became available. Now Tranquility sells “naked DSL,” which allows a customer to buy Internet service without the expense of a phone line.

For Tranquility’s business customers, “Metro Ethernet” is the fastest option now.

“The next thing is wireless. By that time, the cell phone companies will have developed” the infrastructure, Schumacher said. “The thing I’ve liked about it is it’s a really dynamic business.”

By 2003, Schumacher felt for the first time that his company had a firmer footing.

“About that time, we put together a more robust billing system,” he said. “And a more robust Internet network, too, with faster broadband connections and redundant connections.”

About three years ago, the company experienced a setback when the Federal Communications Commission — in an effort to encourage broadband growth nationwide — deregulated DSL lines.

The change allowed phone companies to bundle services such as phone, Internet and television and sell them as packages.

Tranquility resells Internet service by leasing the lines from three phone companies — CenturyLink, AT&T and Socket.

But competing with bundled packages has been a challenge.

“Bundling is hurting our bottom line,” Travis Schumacher said.

To gain an edge, Tranquility hopes to provide better customer service, in person.

“A lot of our customers just need a little bit of extra help,” Travis Schumacher said. “They don’t want to call 1-800-pull-your-hair-out.”

Schumacher said he knows that, ultimately, Internet service is going to be sold like a commodity.

Using an analogy, he said the price of milk, eggs and meat have increased little over the years. “Everything is sold on such a slim margin,” he said. “But while we’re in there, we buy things the grocery store actually makes money on.”

Schumacher believes the future of his company lies not in supplying an Internet connection but in helping customers with other “value-added” services, such as helping people recover lost files or providing them a safe place to back up their data.

“This is where we can provide a service for the community,” he said.

photo

Photo by Don Shrubshell

Hunter Cook, data center manager at Tranquility Internet Services Inc., makes updates to a Cisco 7206 Router to add a DSL Internet customer

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Photo by Don Shrubshell

Travis Schumacher, president of Tranquility Internet Services Inc., talks Wednesday with his sister, Monica Pitts, owner of MayeCreate Design, a website design firm that works with Tranquility Internet Services, at the Micro Business Fair and Reception at Stoney Creek Inn.

photo

Photo by Don Shrubshell

Andrew Guyer, a Tranquility technical support representative, helps a customer with a question.

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