When Mitch Newlin saw the stuff his two college roommates left in their dorm room at the end of freshman year, he shuddered.

“I was appalled by the wastefulness,” he said, recalling a couch, fridge and other furnishings left by his Bates College buddies.

He gathered what he could and transported the items to his parents’ house in Brunswick, thinking of a way to reuse the goods when the next class of students arrived in three months.

“People spend, like, $300 on dorm room furnishings,” he said. “There had to be a way to prevent this stuff from being thrown out and recycled to a new owner.”

To figure it out, Newlin, 22, tapped into his inner entrepreneur. After mulling it over for several months, he founded Re-Fridge, a startup that buys and sells small refrigerators to college students at prices that beat big-box competitors. Within a year, the company’s footprint has grown from just Bates to 16 other college campuses throughout the Northeast, and Newlin expects revenues north of $70,000 this year.

“I was surprised no one was already doing this,” he said. “It makes you realize how poorly designed the system is.”

Newlin, an economics major now in his junior year, is entering a growing market. According to a 2015 National Retail Federation report, consumers spent $43 billion in back-to-college supplies – about a 35 percent increase over what was spent in 2005. Excluding electronics and clothing, that worked out to roughly $126 per student.

To start his company, Newlin first performed market research via Facebook. He asked other Bates students what they would be willing to sell at the end of the school year to prevent furnishings from going to a landfill and to avoid a $50 fine from college administrators for not emptying their dorm rooms. Refrigerators were the top item, especially if someone were willing to pick them up.

“Fifty people approached me and said, ‘Here, take my fridge,’ ” said Newlin.

He did, paying between $15 and $30 for the small appliances, loading them into his sport utility vehicle and stashing them in his parents’ basement. He then approached the incoming class of 2019, letting them know that he had used dorm refrigerators in stock and would deliver them to their rooms for free. They sold out.

Knowing he was onto a good thing but unsure of his next step, Newlin reached out to Josh Davis and Bobby Guerette, founder and marketing director, respectively, of Gelato Fiasco, for whom Newlin had worked. The wildly successful Brunswick gelato company started in 2007 with a 23- and 25-year-old at the helm of the small shop and has grown to a business with just under $10 million in revenue, 50 employees and products in 4,100 supermarkets nationwide.

They recognized the potential of Re-Fridge and offered to be Newlin’s business advisers. From that association a mobile website was born, which gives the company an online sales and delivery platform (refridge.com). Newlin also “formalized” the company using the $2,000 he made in profits his first year and money from friends and family to get legal advice and insurance.

Davis said Newlin has been on his radar since Newlin was in high school and job-shadowed him on a particularly busy day at Gelato Fiasco. On that day, Davis handled a photo shoot for a magazine, made a key hire, let someone go and involved Newlin in a discussion about raising equity.

“I didn’t realize it made much of an impression on him until a lot later,” Davis said in an email. “I’ve always enjoyed talking business with him as an equal exchange of ideas since he obviously knows what it’s like to take an idea (and) develop it into a business.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SAVVY AND CONVENIENCE

To expand the service beyond Bates, Newlin used social media to recruit “brand ambassadors” – students at other colleges willing to market Re-Fridge – and “head representatives” – students at other colleges willing to make the pickups and deliveries. Both sets of employees are paid an hourly rate plus a commission on the sales of the fridges.

Pricing the used appliances, Newlin said, was key. The range runs from $69 for the smallest unit to $194 for a refrigerator/freezer/microwave combo.

For the small, cube-shaped refrigerators, Newlin guarantees his prices are $5 to $10 lower than what a student would pay for a new fridge at a big-box retailer such as Wal-Mart or Target. For the bigger refrigerators, the range is $5 to $100 cheaper.

But the real appeal is the convenience of having the fridges delivered. He said online retailers such as Amazon can deliver only to a campus mail center, which means the student has to pick it up and carry it back to his or her room. But because Re-Fridge uses students to make its deliveries, the fridges are delivered to the door.

That was the biggest appeal for Kate McNally, a junior at Bates who bought a smaller fridge/freezer unit from Re-Fridge last fall.

“It was harder to be more convenient,” said McNally, an environmental studies major from Connecticut. “I ordered it, he texted me and then brought it right over. After I thought about it, I realized it’s great that I’m doing something good for the environment and helping a classmate out, but really, it was all about the convenience.”

Guerette said that attention to the customer experience will serve Re-Fridge well.

“In my opinion, consumer businesses need a good idea, but they really succeed based on whether they can execute on providing a great product and customized experience to individual customers over and over again, day after day,” Guerette said in an email. “I think Mitch’s instinct to execute on the details of sales and service will support success as Re-Fridge scales up.”

Guerette also gives a nod to Newlin’s use of social media to grow the business, a tactic Gelato Fiasco used extensively in its own company.

“Mitch knows that the technology experience for someone in college today is vastly different than it was even five or six years ago, and he’s investing in that,” said Guerette, noting that Re-Fridge communicates via texting and marketing is done through Facebook and Snapchat.

‘A WAY TO POSITIVELY IMPACT THE WORLD’

Newlin is making a conscious effort to operate Re-Fridge as a socially responsible company. For instance, 20 percent of his profits are donated to a charity, with his favorite being the Friends of Kakamega, an orphanage in West Kenya that focuses on education where Newlin volunteered in his gap year between high school and college. Other charities are also supported through the company’s online payment system where a donation can be directed to other charities.

“I’m not in business just to make money,” he said. “I believe entrepreneurship and businesses are a way to positively impact the world.”

When he considered expanding to other campuses, his father advised him to consider the environmental impact of Re-Fridge beyond keeping the appliances out of landfills. His father sits on the board of Unity College, whose curriculum is built around sustainability and is nationally recognized for its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.

For that reason, Newlin is renting storage units within 10 miles of the campuses where Re-Fridge operates to reduce transportation-related emissions.

He also is growing his product lines. After brainstorming with Guerette, Newlin now offers a high school graduation special, marketed to parents or grandparents of graduating seniors. For $99, Re-Fridge will deliver a dorm fridge stuffed with non-perishable goodies to an incoming freshman’s room in September.

Eventually, Newlin would like to grow the company beyond just refrigerators. He’s considering offering a storage service, an idea that occurred to him when one of his Bates friends said he had no place to stash his dorm stuff over the summer while he returned to his native Brazil.

And if he can deliver refrigerators to college dorms, why not electronics, linens and other furnishings?

“I think I will pursue an entrepreneurial career,” Newlin said. “Maybe in the nonproft sector, like getting into a micro-loan program in Kenya.

“I like to think, ‘What could be an economically viable way to move us all forward?’ “