FreckleBall Inventor Charlie Lowrey and His Moment of Inspiration
Like any kid his age, 13-year-old Charlie Lowrey has many hobbies: karate, piano, acting. Unlike a typical teen, however, one of those pastimes happens to be running a full-fledged business.
“He is a businessman,” acknowledges his mother, Lin Li, punctuating the thought with a chuckle.
Lowrey has gone to market with his invention, the FreckleBall, a smooth, dotted silicone ball that flexes to the touch—or on impact, as was the case for his moment of inspiration. “I got hit in the face with a baseball,” Lowrey recalls. “I didn’t break my nose, but I had a really bad bloody nose. So this, if you get hit in the face, it collapses. So it’s harder to get hurt. And it all just spiraled from there.”
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But Lowrey, a seventh-grader at The Wellington School, didn’t just want to make this new kind of ball for himself: He wanted it to be for kids everywhere. When Lowrey decided to turn his idea into a reality, Li and Lowrey’s father, Chuck, were fully in his corner. “We love the process, because he learned a lot [at] this age,” Li says.
His parents (his mother is an anesthesiologist and his father an orthopedic surgeon) enlisted the help of friends and family to bring Lowrey’s idea to fruition. Li’s brother in China helped secure a manufacturer, and friends of Chuck’s created a website and social media pages for the toy. Now, the FreckleBall has transformed from a hand-sewn, fabric prototype into a patented product with the typical accoutrements of a mainstream toy: an e-commerce website, a range of social media, a YouTube channel and a place on the shelves of three local stores.
“They took off with our customers,” says Frank Schirtzinger, owner of Star Beacon Products, the first store to begin selling FreckleBalls. “I think kids are naturally kind of just creating … so I’m not surprised that a kid’s the one that came up with it,” he says. “I’m just surprised that it kind of got to the step where they patented it and they were able to get it created on a large scale.”
Lowrey doesn’t approach the FreckleBall as a whim. He’s looking at the long game. After purchasing one video game with some of his profits, he decided to invest the rest back into his business. “Put money in, you get money out,” he says, in the way of a seasoned business professional. “What else are we going to do with the money?”
When he received an offer to sell out to As Seen On TV, Lowrey wouldn’t entertain the idea. “It was a bad deal,” he says decisively. “Selling online and just growing it gradually would make more sense.”
Despite the business acumen Lowrey shows when talking about the FreckleBall, Li says he’s not always so confident about being a teenage entrepreneur. “He’s a little bit shy,” she says. “He does not even want to talk about this in school because he feels like all the kids are like, you know, this is not the cool thing for kids to do.”
At least several adults, however, disagree. “That kid’s got a bright future,” says family friend and physical therapist Catherine Cardenas, whom Li credits for showing the family the ball’s unintended potential for children with special needs, especially those on the autism spectrum.
“I went over there for dinner and we got to talking just about what I did, and he shows me the ball. … I said, ‘You know, this would be something really cool that I could use for my kids,’ ” recalls Cardenas, who at the time was living in Columbus and working on a contract with the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio serving students with special needs.
That night, she took a bundle home and began using them at her job sites. “The kids loved them just because they can shake them and they got that sensory input from them as well, with them being super squishy,” Cardenas says. “It was really cool to see them kind of light up over a toy, because it’s not common for kids like that,” she says.
Schirtzinger, who just sent in his first FreckleBall restock order, echoes the popularity of the product for children with special needs, saying that’s the basis for much of the FreckleBall’s steady sale at his Grandview Heights store. “They’re using them a lot for autistic children,” he explains.
Thanks to the FreckleBall’s early popularity, Lowrey and his parents are in talks to sell the product nationally with Learning Express Toys. It’s also available locally at Oh, Know! The Knowing Place and the Dublin Toy Emporium, and they plan to enter it in the 2020 Toy Fair in New York. To boot, Lowrey already is selling his second invention, the FreckleBand, a scented silicone bracelet he hopes to use to raise awareness about sugar content in foods and drinks. Stay tuned.