Brunswick college student’s business makes the most of mini-fridges

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BRUNSWICK — For a guy in the refrigerator business, Mitch Newlin doesn’t have much time to chill out.

The Brunswick native, who is a Bates College senior and full-time member of Gelato Fiasco’s management team, commits more than 20 hours a week to Re-Fridge, the mini-fridge re-sale company he founded in 2015.

With a presence on more than 20 New England college campuses, the company purchases old refrigerators used in dorm rooms and re-sells them to incoming students in the fall.

Newlin, 23, said in an interview Monday that his company creates a recycling loop that keeps fridges out of landfills, satisfying his entrepreneurial spirit by simultaneously doing business and doing good.

This year, the company announced it will partner with Goodwill of Northern New England to purchase donated mini-fridges.

“Goodwill doesn’t officially collect mini-fridges, but people still donate them,” Newlin said, explaining that Goodwill has a policy against re-selling refrigerators because they contain the chemical coolant Freon.

“We’re an easy solution,” said Newlin, who was approached with the idea by a Goodwill executive at a conference last fall.

The partnership signals the rising success of a company that started with a simple observation and a few Facebook posts.

Dump the dump

The idea for Re-Fridge occurred to Newlin three years ago, when he noticed his friends about to throw away their old fridges, couches, and dorm accessories when the school year ended.

“Is this just going to go to the dump?” he recalled thinking – especially knowing that a whole cohort of students were bound to purchase new fridges in the fall.

“There’s got to be a way to connect these two inefficient systems,” he thought at the time, and asked if he could take the items home and re-sell them.

The following spring, Newlin put out a call on Facebook for old and unwanted fridges.

“I ended up buying 52 fridges back from students on my own,” he said.

Newlin eventually formalized a business model – drawing on knowledge and guidance from his work and boss at Gelato Fiasco – hired a part-time employee, and hired a marketing service.

He transferred the business to a smartphone app format, which allows his team – including a network of more than 25 stationed campus representatives – to easily track orders, pick-ups, and deliveries.

Last year, he bought 300 fridges and was able to re-sell 80 percent of them last fall.

Each fridge is inspected by an electrician, who evaluates them to meet safety standards and does necessary repairs to wiring, motors, and door hinges.

“As an insured business, we can’t sell any fridge that doesn’t meet safety standards,” Newlin said.

Green is good

On Monday afternoon, he showed off a den of about 15 fridges stored in his parents’ basement; each looked brand new.

The appliances are priced competitively with the ones sold by big-box stores, but Newlin offers free pickup and delivery.

The concept also appeals to “a more green, a more conscious consumer perspective,” he added, because the company is built around the mission of reducing waste.

As noted on its website,Newlin has calculated that if Re-Fridge reclaimed every one of the estimated 1.5 million fridges on college campuses, the company would reduce “over 5 million pounds of ferrous metals, over 5 million pounds of plastics, and over 1 million pounds of glass, refrigerant and refrigerant oil,”

“That’s kind of staggering,” Newlin said.

He also calculated that between Re-Fridge, school, and working at Gelato Fiasco, he works an average of 80 hours a week.

And with a string of college graduations on the horizon – where Newlin is expected to be picking up and dropping up fridges, not to mention attending his own commencement– he said the next five weeks are going to be “nuts.”

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Mitch Newlin in the basement of his Brunswick home, where he stores reclaimed mini-fridges he sells through Re-Fridge, a company he started in 2015.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.