By Tina Manzer
If they are not doing so already, manufacturers of science equipment for schools should start gearing up for growth. Thanks to STEM and now the Next Gen Science Standards, Bunsen burners, ring stands and safety goggles are getting the attention they deserve. It’s an exciting time to be a nerd.
Just ask C & A Scientific, a 25-year-old family owned company whose specialty is microscopes. Headquartered in Manassas, Virginia, with additional offices in Shanghai, China, the company started out serving the medical industry before it branched out into the hobby and education markets. Currently, C & A’s
workforce totals just 17 professionals who do shipping, customer service, sales, marketing, and operations, but as the company’s vice president told me in July, “We are currently adding more employees to meet the increased demand for product and internal resources.”
VP Trent Middleton is also a former science teacher. He talked to us recently about STEM and the standards, microscopes, and the small company that makes award-winning products for students.
I’ve heard C & A Scientific began in the founder’s basement.
Yes. It’s a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of our founder, Ming Xiang, a former English teacher in China who believed in the American dream.
In the beginning, he focused solely on the medical market, selling microscope slides to medical product dealers. C & A was one of the first companies to source slides from China, and Ming has always believed in providing high quality products at affordable prices.
Following the slides, C & A offered professional, medical-grade microscopes. The business grew, and we moved into our current warehouse and office space more than 20 years ago. It was carefully designed and renovated to encompass operations and shipping. Eighty percent of our business is to the U.S. market, and 20 percent is international.
After parents and educational organizations asked us if we offered microscopes for children, we launched My First Lab in 1998, a science product line we designed exclusively for those markets. The company maintained its presence in the medical market, though, and we use our expertise and experience in manufacturing professional microscopes to create affordable, but still high-quality, children’s microscopes.
How were your children’s microscopes different from others on the market?
The only microscope options available to hobbyists and kids at that time had low-quality plastic lenses. We knew we had to do better, so all of our optics are glass, not plastic, with the exclusion of one of our models designed for a specific application.
Many microscopes out there rely on mirrors to reflect light up to the stage where the specimen is for viewing. That’s not us. Our microscopes are all medical-grade quality, meaning that we have real optical light sources – no mirrors. We rely on LED bulbs for maximum illumination and long-lasting life for hours of scientific fun and research. We also offer battery operated and plug-in scopes depending on the application.
How has the focus on STEM in U.S. schools impacted your company?
STEM allows us to create educational products that advance the industry, and to help children, no matter their background, foster critical skills for the future.
STEM has not only impacted our business to schools, but also to parents. They feel good about purchasing a product that’s high-quality, educational and fun. Our director of marketing, Matthew Swain, and his daughter do activities together with one of our microscopes. Sometimes she completes the activities herself. Matthew has told us how amazing it is, as a parent, to see her seek discovery and exhibit creativity on her own, whether she looks at specimens on prepared slides or searches her backyard for things she can study more closely with her microscope.
In the future, we will be investing more into STEM-based initiatives and events, and investigating how our products can integrate with evolving technology – both in the classroom, at home, and on the go.
How will C & A be affected as more states adopt the Next Generation Science Standards?
We believe it will create an even higher demand for our science products, and it will influence how we develop new products. I think it will create a greater focus on customized learning tools – rather than a blanket solution – so students can get more hands-on learning. Our microscopes, for example, are ideal for students who are on different levels based on their age and the application. We offer microscopes for hobby all the way through college. In addition, our prepared specimen slides coincide with grade levels based on student learning.
What trade shows do you attend?
In addition to EDexpo, we exhibit at the New York International Toy Fair, ASTRA’s Marketplace & Academy, and several international events, including Spielwarenmesse. Our goal is to connect our award-winning My First Lab product line with dealers who sell educational products online, in catalogs, and in stores.
We also participate in initiatives in our surrounding community like science fairs and STEM events, where we have a great opportunity to donate products and showcase what’s new.
What’s your best seller?
Well, educational dealers like our award-winning My First Lab products because they are able to realize revenue through a quality, award-winning brand that offers hands-on learning.
Our Duo-Scope, also known as the MFL-06, is a bestseller within that line. It’s affordable, and features two LED light sources: a top light for viewing solid 3D objects and a bottom light for viewing specimens on a slide. Consumers like that it’s cordless, and comes with more than 40 accessories, like blank slides, prepared slides, test tubes and more. The scope has a 10X eyepiece with 4X, 10X, 40X objectives, giving it a total magnification power of 40X, 100X and 400X. It also comes with – you guessed it – real glass optics.
Our prepared slides are a hit, too, thanks to biological-type slides that include earthworms, ants, fibers, flowers and frog parts specimens.
We’ve received numerous awards, most recently from Creative Child Magazine.
What tips do you have for selling your products?
We pride ourselves in being able to educate dealers and retailers on the right microscopes and science products for their customers. We can provide product education, user-guides and product support. If dealers need help, they can contact us by picking up the phone – and getting a real voice – at 703-330-1413. They can also visit us at myfirstlab.com.
We strive to bring a fresh and innovative approach to science discovery, and focus every step of the way on the learning experience of kids of all ages.