A Shafter company has a little, bitty business — in terms of what it sells, but not in how many it sells.
Since its establishment nearly five decades ago, Insect Lore has sold millions of “insect kits” to schools and families to help educate children about science and the life cycles of insects — notably butterflies. The local company sells its kits in stories and online throughout the United States and Europe.
And demand for Insect Lore’s products is increasing.
“With an increased emphasis in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in schools and toy stores, parents and teachers are eager to have our wonder-filled Butterfly Garden, Butterfly Growing Kit in their homes and classrooms,” said Marcus Mcmanamna, Insect Lore’s president. “Of course, we’ve always been STEM, but now our products are even more sought out.”
The company began in the 1960s, when entomologist Carlos White moved from his native Illinois to work for a local chemical company. His job was to “grow” insects so his company could research ways to kill them.
The story goes that killing the insects broke White’s heart, prompting him to found Insect Lore, a company that helps people, especially children, understand and appreciate the wonderful lives of insects and the contributions they make to our world.
White refocused his research on finding ways to keep bugs alive. He developed a “food” that would maintain insects long enough for them to be shipped to customers for research, education and just the sheer fun of watching such “miracles” as beautiful butterflies evolving from common-looking caterpillars.
White created and sold “insect kits” through hobby shops, department stores, classroom suppliers and online retailers. Customers would buy the “habitat” in a store and then mail a coupon to Insect Lore to acquire the habitant’s “insect residents.”
“But given the rapid transition from physical retail to online shopping, parents and teachers are finding it easier to discover Insect Lore and to purchase from us,” said Mcmanamna, who explained his company’s new online purchasing system that allows “Insect Lore to ship both the habitat and the live insects at once, ensuring a more convenient and fantastic experience.”
An estimated 60 percent of the company’s sales of kits for growing butterflies, ladybugs and praying mantises, as well as ant farms, science books, toys and DVDs, are to individuals. That means Insect Lore receives and processes an avalanche of $5, $10 and $15 checks per day. It could be an overwhelming task if it weren’t for the company’s relationship with a local bank.
“Mission Bank’s Shafter branch has always been helpful,” said Mcmanamna. “Insect Lore receives thousands of checks per day during our busy season. The bank’s treasury management services, including REACH, allow us to seamlessly deposit the many individual payments that we receive on a daily basis.
“Most of all, the Shafter branch and the frontline people that I interact with there are always so very friendly and helpful.”
Banker Juana Wilson explained that local community banks, such as Mission Bank, are particularly suited to customizing and implementing treasury management services, such as REACH. With an emphasis on developing relationships that help local small businesses, such as Insect Lore, staff is allocated to help identify special needs and train company staff on how to best utilize financial services.
In the case of Insect Lore, the company needed a banking system that would minimize the time and effort needed to process thousands of small checks a day. Mission’s REACH program allows company officials to do their banking remotely, eliminating the need to bundle checks and make time-consuming “bank runs,” said Wilson.
With Insect Lore’s sales occurring on two continents, treasury management services also ease the complications of international transactions, Wilson said.
Carlos White retired and passed the company to his son, John, to head the U.S. sales from the Shafter headquarters, and to his daughter Jennifer, to head the European sales from her home in Cornwall, England. Longtime company executive Mcmanamna now serves as Insect Lore’s president.
Maureen Buscher-Dang is a Bakersfield public relations consultant.