§ 6.3. Marketing and Sales
Gregory Gross

§ 6.3. Marketing and Sales

On This Page

  1. Marketing Channels
  2. Advertising Themes
  3. Pricing and Sales

As the 1990s unfolded, Questar’s marketing apparatus contracted. In past decades, magazine advertising, high-quality booklets, and other promotional literature represented the means by which Questar cultivated potential clients and retained existing ones. But during the last years of the twentieth century, the landscape where the company did business looked nothing like it had when Lawrence Braymer printed his first Questar booklet in the spring of 1954.

The instability that arose as a result of problematic special applications project work also likely contributed to the contraction of Questar’s marketing. As the company neared Chapter 11 bankruptcy and reorganization in 1995, its unbroken chain of advertisements that had appeared in every issue of Sky and Telescope since August 1954 became more intermittent. Questar altogether withdrew from other magazines that amateur astronomers, naturalists, and other potential clients read.

Perhaps Questar made the smart move to cut back on its use of magazine advertising and printed literature. On the eve of the twenty-first century, the internet became a more effective yet less costly way to reach customers and market products. In response, the company in New Hope latched onto a trend that, by the year 2000, clearly pointed to the future.

Marketing Channels

After her husband passed away in late 1965, Marguerite Braymer used her experience in the advertising industry to continue running the marketing machine that she and Lawrence Braymer set into motion when they founded Questar Corporation in 1950. But in 1976, when Douglas Knight arrived at Questar, Marguerite Braymer turned 65 years old. For the next decade and a half, she slowly detached herself from the day-to-day operations of the company, although she maintained final word over what Questar’s marketing looked like.[1]

In the 1990s, Marguerite Braymer was in her 80s. In increasingly poor health, she likely relinquished whatever remaining hold she had on Questar’s marketing campaign. To fill the gap, the company’s employees worked on Questar’s advertisements and marketing literature as a team effort. Only on limited occasions did they tap a consultant for input. Toward the end of the decade, Questar pulled more and more of that work in-house.[2]

Magazine Advertising

Questar advertisement, <em>Sky and Telescope</em>, November 1999
In late 1999 and early 2000, Questar ran quarter-page advertisements that communicated the virtues of its portable, hand-crafted telescope in simple terms. Questar Corporation

The appearance of Questar’s magazine advertisements evolved in the 1990s. Setting aside its prior use of dense blocks of text for promoting its products, the company instead simplified its advertising content. More concise copywriting appeared in front of backgrounds that popped with contrasting colors. The size of the advertisements changed, too. Full-page spreads gave way to half- and, later, quarter-page promotions.

Questar also began to reduce its presence in various magazines. In Scientific American, where the company had advertised since June 1959, Questar’s last promotion in that publication appeared in February 1991.[3] In Astronomy magazine, which the company had used to promote its products since November 1984, Questar ran advertisements less regularly.

But the most conspicuous change occurred in Sky and Telescope. In April 1993, Questar published its last advertisement on the magazine’s inside front cover.[4] It was the last of 382 consecutive appearances in that position, a stretch that began in July 1961. Between May and October 1993, the company ran only three half-page advertisements towards the back of the magazine.[5]

Between November 1993 and March 1997, Questar advertisements disappeared from Sky and Telescope altogether.

The company reemerged with a small quarter-page advertisement in the April 1997 issue of Sky and Telescope.[6] The company did so again on only ten more occasions throughout the remainder of the decade.

Brochures and Newsletters

<em>Questar Observations</em> for spring 1992
Questar Observations for spring 1992. Questar Corporation

At least in the early 1990s, Questar did not completely dispense with printed marketing literature.

In 1992, it published a leaflet entitled “Choosing a Telescope,” which longtime Questar advocate Rodger Gordon wrote for the company.[7]

The company also published four editions of its revived Questar Observations newsletter between the spring of 1992 and the autumn of 1993. Topics that Questar discussed included solar observing, special applications, product announcements, and nature observing.[8]

Sales Representatives

During the early 1990s, Questar branched out into a number of international sales offices. Its first locations in Japan and the Netherlands appeared in the company’s July 1991 advertisement in Sky and Telescope.[9] In subsequent months, other offices opened in Singapore and India.[10] But as financial storm clouds gathered, Questar cut back its use of international sales agents. The last reference to these offices appeared in the company’s October 1993 advertisement in Sky and Telescope.[11]

Domestically, Questar established relationships with third-party sellers. In 1995, Stewart Squires, who owned an oil and gas consulting business and who sold astronomy products under a company that did business under the name Palantir Astronomy, contacted Questar about the possibility that he could contribute as one of the company’s dealers. After speaking with Abhay Khinvasara, a vice president for sales, Questar loaned him a Duplex to test. Squires was so impressed with it that he ended up having one custom made for himself. Along with his existing relationships with Celestron, Losmandy, and Pentax, he became one of Questar’s dealers. After the lean times of the mid-1990s, he continued in that capacity and made several visits to the company’s headquarters in New Hope over the course of several years.[12]

Questar also maintained what became a longstanding relationship with Martin Cohen of Company Seven in Laurel, Maryland.[13]

Telescopes and Accessories Booklets and Price Lists

Front cover of Questar’s Telescopes and Accessories booklet
The front cover of Questar’s Telescopes and Accessories booklet. Questar Corporation

While Questar pulled back from its magazine advertising campaign, the company also ended its practice of printing glossy booklets with colorful photographs and client testimonials, and it stopped including price lists in an Instruments and Accessories catalog. The company instead printed a few editions of a brief Telescopes and Accessories catalog, which represented the last pieces of high-quality print literature that Questar produced and distributed to prospective customers.

At the same time, the company began issuing separate price lists that it generated on a word processor. The approach simplified what must surely have been a far more cumbersome way to publish its pricing. Its continued use of a print shop, typesetters, and other overhead would have added cost to Questar’s marketing at a time when the company could not afford to waste resources.

Website

In August 1992, Douglas Knight used an old-fashioned approach to maintain contact with his company’s clients. In a personally-signed letter to Questar owners on record, he solicited them for updated contact information, and he recommended they send in their Questar for service every five to seven years. Knight also took the opportunity to remind owners about the availability of new accessories that the company had recently developed. “We value contact with our customers,” the letter concluded, “and welcome the opportunity to communicate more closely with our Questar owners through our newsletter, ‘Observations.’”[14]

Sometime around 1999 or 2000, Questar printed a flyer that announced the creation of its new website
Sometime around 1999 or 2000, Questar printed a flyer that announced the creation of its new website. Questar Corporation

For years, the company’s advertisements had encouraged customers to send for a Questar booklet. By the latter half of the 1990s, however, they lacked any suggestion that customers should write for more information. Instead, Questar listed only its physical address and its phone and fax numbers.

But the way that the company encouraged its client base to stay in contact was about to change dramatically.

In September 1998, Questar indicated a website address for the first time in its magazine advertising.[15] After a few iterations that included www.questarcorp.com and www.questar-corp.com, the company finally settled on www.questarcorporation.com by the time it published its August 2000 advertisement in Sky and Telescope.[16]

Advertising Themes

In his introduction of the Questar telescope to the market in 1954, Lawrence Braymer took aim at the typical astronomical telescopes that were available to amateurs at the time.[17] Nearly fifty years later, Questar again surveyed the amateur astronomy landscape. But rather than introduce a telescope with a revolutionary new design to the market, the company faced a different task: distinguishing its small and largely unchanged Maksutov-Cassegrain from those products that were made by other relative newcomers who claimed to offer better value. While Celestron, Meade, and several other companies turned out relatively inexpensive telescopes of reasonable quality in huge numbers, Questar continued to hand-build a 3.5-inch Maksutov-Cassegrain that was virtually identical to the one Braymer initially introduced to the market. Instead of promoting something new, Questar’s task was to justify the high cost of something that had been around for decades. What continued to set the Questar telescope apart from all the others?

Questar advertisement, <em>Sky and Telescope</em>, November 1992
In November 1992, Questar asserted its objectives were different from most other telescope manufacturers. Questar Corporation

“Our objectives are different from other commercial telescope manufacturers,” the company asserted in the November 1992 issue of Sky and Telescope, “and our telescopes cost more to make.” Point by point, Questar went on to justify that high price tag. First, there was quality. “Guaranteed optical performance, surpassing all commercial telescopes. Materials and finishes that will last for generations. Precision movements with a feel that is the result of laborious handwork.” Second was the satisfaction of knowing that one owned the best “regardless of price.” Third, the convenience and versatility of a self-contained system ensured that one would use a Questar far more than telescopes with larger aperture. And finally there was the notion that a Questar telescope was an investment. It would not only hold its value better than other instruments, but it would also return a lifetime of enjoyment.[18]

In a nutshell, Questar reiterated the essence of what its magazine advertising had been saying for decades. But it did so in the context of intense competition that threatened to eat away at its sales.

Pricing and Sales

The price of a fully-mounted 3.5-inch Questar with a standard Pyrex mirror and magnesium fluoride coatings rose from $3080 in 1990 to $3820 in 1999, an increase of 24%. Other models saw similar price increases over that same time period: the cost of a Field Model with standard options went up from $2065 to $2630, a 27% increase, and the price of a Questar Seven optical tube rose from $6500 to $7505, a 15% increase.[19]

By contrast, Focus Camera and Video retailed a computerized Meade LX200 eight-inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope for $2495 at the beginning of 1995. The New York-based dealer also sold unbranded Dobsonian-mounted reflectors ranging in size from six to 12.5 inches for $395 to $765.[20] For some budget-minded amateurs who demanded aperture at the lowest possible price, the choice was not a difficult one.

On the other hand, many of those who gravitated to such bargains would have been the amateur telescope makers of past generations, individuals who built their own instruments and figured their own optics more as a cost-saving measure than anything else. By the end of the twentieth century, many ATMs had become the beneficiaries of a market that offered high-performance telescopes at prices unheard of in previous decades. The core rationale that launched the ATM movement in the early years of the twentieth century—the high cost of commercially built telescopes—no longer held sway in the later years of the century.

Many others who may have seriously considered the purchase of a Questar in past years now had a choice between the classic Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope made in New Hope and a flood of apochromats with similar aperture but with all the benefits of a high-quality refractor. While some opted for telescopes made by Takahashi, Astro-Physics, Tele Vue, and the like, others continued to choose a Questar. The market simply offered more options to consumers.

An analysis of serial numbers reveals that production of Standard and Duplex Questars continued a decline that had begun around the late 1970s and early 1980s. From 1990 to 1992, the company produced roughly 195 units on average per year. But from 1993 to 1999, average annual production fell by more than half to around 90 units.

But similar to the state of affairs at Questar during the late 1970s and the 1980s, the production of telescopes that the company sold to hobbyists in the 1990s tells only part of the story. Although its heart remained with them, the company had been positioning itself to become less dependent on amateurs. Increasingly, Questar did more business with industrial and government clients whose resources were far more generous than even those households with above-average income.

In spite of trends in the amateur astronomy market, loyal Questar enthusiasts continued to remain true to the company as it approached its fiftieth anniversary.

Next: § 6.4. A Celebration of Questar

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Notes

1 Jim Perkins, email message to author, September 28, 2020.

2 Jim Perkins, email message to author, September 28, 2020.

3 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, February 1991, 141.

4 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, April 1993, inside front cover.

5 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, May 1993, 77; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, August 1993, 75; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, October 1993, 50.

6 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, April 1997, 81.

7 Questar Corporation, “Choosing a Telescope,” 1992; Rodger Gordon to the author, September 23, 2020.

8 Questar Corporation, Questar Observations (Spring 1992); Questar Corporation, Questar Observations (Fall 1992); Questar Corporation, Questar Observations (Spring 1993); Questar Corporation, Questar Observations (Fall 1993).

9 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, July 1991, inside front cover.

10 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Astronomy, January 1992, 109.

11 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, October 1993, 50.

12 Stewart Squires, email message to author, October 20, 2019; Stewart Squires, email message to author, October 28, 2019; Stewart Squires, email message to author, April 7, 2021.

13 “Questar Products Index & Overview Page,” Company Seven, n.d., http://www.company7.com/questar/index.html, accessed January 2, 2022. On this undated page, Company Seven boasts that, “for nearly thirty years [it] has represented Questar Corp.”

14 Douglas Knight to Questar owners, August 1992.

15 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, September 1998, 97.

16 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, August 2000, 71.

17 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, June 1954, 272-273.

18 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, November 1992, inside front cover.

19 Questar Corporation, price list, April 1990; Questar Corporation, Questar Seven price list, May 1998; Questar Corporation, 3.5-inch telescope price list, March 1999.

20 Focus Camera and Video, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, January 1995, 18-19.