John Vansant Wanamaker


“Half my advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half.” - John Wanamaker

Probably a rather optimistic quotation by John Wannamaker back at the turn of the 20th Century where three quarters might have been more appropriate at the time but he made his point

Marketing and sales are important issues for any commercial enterprise and techniques have developed a great deal since 1922 this issue being emphasised by the Consultant employed by QRS last year to progress the application for Museum Accreditation. During the consultation period it became evident that QRS had absolutely no idea where their visitors were coming from and that no efforts had been made to analyse a marketing strategy for the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre (BRS). In other words the whole of the advertising budget was being fired off in a Blunderbuss fashion just because this is what had always been done. Times have also changed since BRS first opened its doors where marketing has become very sophisticated and so too have the public on the receiving end.

It is very nice to see your product illustrated in glowing terms of print and pictures and the prestige of scattering leaflets and advertising around is tempting indeed. But does it bring in the customers?

This year we saw a new distributed leaflet design that came about with expert marketing and design advice from outside of the Society. It was not designed to appeal to enthusiasts who will find their own way to Quainton but for attracting families to the idea of a day out. Within that leaflet was a deliberate 10% discount for visitors to claim if they presented the leaflet on entry to the Centre. This was a ploy to get some idea of the market penetration the leaflet was achieving which costs several thousand pounds to produce and distribute. The results so far are one or two claims per open day whereas internet promotions such as Groupon, Amazon and Travelzoo result in several dozens of visitors but the prices are slashed plus part of the fee goes to the promoters. There are lessons to be learned from these experiences as it may be easier to implement such discounting but the loss of revenue to the Centre is significant. One might ask just what is the true average price of visitor admission to our museum.

The perceived wisdom from some quarters in the QRS is that the leaflet was a “débâcle” even though it was approved by the Officers of QRS throughout the development stages. Last minute changes were made to the cover illustrations to placate the incumbent “enthusiasts” which was a triumph for obstinacy over entrepreneurialism and resulted in a leaflet that looked the same as before rather than eye catching and modern. This has not been the only instance of obstinacy over the past year resulting eventually in the departure of Ray Powell from the Executive Committee.

The Executive committee is now devoid of anyone with real practical business and marketing experience and the members, particularly the shareholding members, will have to consider in which direction they wish the BRC Museum should proceed. The Forward Plan Mission Statement objective declares BRC “To be a leading working heritage railway museum, by providing a high level of activity, general interest and interpretation, appealing to a diverse audience“. This statement needs to be backed up with realistic and progressive management otherwise the objectives will not be realised and the visitor numbers will continue to be “Salami” sliced away until the museum is in real trouble. It is just not good enough to continue to rely upon the marketing of the Groupons and with the HITS Corporation Thomas the Tank Engine to attract visitors. The Society must be more outward looking and gain contacts with others in the area to raise the profile of the BRC Museum. Even the Dart Valley Railway have linked with the National Trust and local heritage bus operators to achieve a more attractive and rounded visitor experience down in Devon.


John Vansant Wanamaker (July 11, 1838 – December 12, 1922) was a United States merchant, religious leader, civic and political figure, considered by some to be a proponent of advertising and a "pioneer in marketing." He served as U.S. Postmaster General. Wanamaker was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.