Precocious doesn’t begin to describe Christopher Row. The 11-year-old has a maturity that’s almost startling until his silly side emerges, betraying his true age.
He’s just always been this way, even before he became responsible for managing his diabetes, a task that requires four blood tests a day along with regular insulin shots. But responsibility has always been a part of his constitution; he started his first company when he was all of 8, picking up dog poop for neighbors.
“I called it the ‘Business Business,’ ” he smiles. He’s a planner, who’s already saving for his first car.
But then came the summer that changed everything. Christopher was 10 and at camp when he first noticed something was off. “I was eating tons of candy at summer camp, but I still lost 10 pounds,” the St. John’s Episcopal School student says.
He then went on a road trip to the family’s vacation home in New Mexico, where no matter how much water he drank, he couldn’t quench his thirst. His father took him to urgent care.
“At first we went to a doc in a box, and they didn’t know what it was,” Christopher explains in a story he’s clearly told more than once. After he was transferred to a hospital, a blood sugar test showed soaring levels and he was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. During the five days he spent in the hospital, he immediately took charge of his own care, learning how to check his blood and administer his medication.
“In the hospital, they were teaching us what to do. My mom and dad were standing there looking at each other like, ‘OK, you do it,’ ” Christopher says with a laugh. “I just started doing it myself. I very much like being in control.”
Like any chronic condition, it was a transition that was hard to get used to. Christopher learned to carry a bag of gummi bears everywhere in case his blood sugar drops, and is diligent about always testing on schedule to keep his body in balance. It’s no big deal now, he says, and he even came up with an analogy that his doctor now uses when talking to other kids about diabetes.
“He told the doctor, ‘It’s kind of like having an imaginary dog. You have to feed it. You have to take care of it,’ ” his mom, Kathy Row, says.
Soon after Christopher settled into life as a diabetic, he wanted to give back. Sitting in a German restaurant in New Mexico, he was entranced by the candle on the table and an idea was born. He decided to make and sell candles to raise money for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). When asked what drew him to candles, he offers a perfect kid response: “I like fire. Fire is fun to watch. It’s just a boy thing.”
But Christopher approached his second business venture of his young life like a seasoned professional, spending hours researching how to make candles, what products to use and what scents are most popular. He even used his money from his “Business Business” to fund his next venture. He decided to go with soy, the cleanest-burning wax, which he put in simple tins and scented with citrus, spruce, lavender and lilac. There was some trial and error there — he wanted to be sure not to over perfume his product so it could only be smelled when burning. Then there was the issue of the wick.
“The hardest thing in my entire business? The wick,” he sighs. Always a perfectionist, he tinkered until he got just the right height, so it keeps the candle burning easily.
“They say the height of the flame should match the dent in the wax,” he explains. “Mine are perfect.”
He began slowly selling the candles to family friends and neighbors, which is when Leon Banowetz took notice. As the president of the advertising firm Banowetz + Company, whose clients include Stephan Pyles’ Floral Street Café and Floss Dental, he knew he could help Christopher’s emerging business.
“I told him to come down and present his concept to our business team,” Banowetz says. He helped make sure Christopher was prepared down to the financials, which included figuring out the cost per candle, the target sales price and how much would go toward JDRF. Christopher describes the process as “long and mathy,” but worthwhile. The Banowetz team helped him find his name, Row Candles, along with a professional logo and packaging. They also built him a website where he can sell his candles online.
“I picked this look because it’s modern and very clean,” Christopher says, “like my candles.”
The project did require him to up his prices slightly to cover the cost of packaging his candles (design services were provided pro-bono by Banowetz). Candles retail for $10, much lower than the industry average, Christopher points out, of which $2 goes to JDRF.
“Just because our candles are cheaper doesn’t mean they’re of lesser quality,” he assures, calling mainstream candle companies “criminal” for what they charge.
Currently, he makes up to 20 candles at a time, most of which are crafted to order. He is eager to make his first contribution to the JDRF this fall. It’s a business he plans to stay in for a while.
“I’d like to retire doing this,” he says.
Find spruce, lavender, citrus and lilac candles for sale at rowcandles.com.