1. Life & Culture

Online, the new school of dorm decor

Once my daughter turned in her college acceptance form, her next step was not combing through the course catalog to figure out her classes; instead, she set out to find a roommate. This was a surprise to me. I had assumed roommates were randomly assigned, as they were when I went to college, but social media has made it possible for newly admitted students to seek out their own living arrangements, and many colleges and universities honor their requests.

In my daughter's case, she ended up finding a potential roommate through a friend of a friend. The two girls set up a time to iChat, and after a rapid-fire session of questioning that resembled speed dating, they decided that they were probably compatible. By the end of the conversation, they had even agreed on a periwinkle blue color scheme for their room. Last week, they learned their request had been granted.

I liken this "pick your roommate" process to finding out what sex your child is before it's born: By removing a big unknown, one can better plan and manage expectations. For many students, something as simple as coordinating duvet colors in advance or deciding who will provide the room's minifridge alleviates unnecessary anxiety, making the transition to college life that much easier.

But even if a student has chosen a roommate in advance, there is still the stress of acquiring all of the stuff one needs for the dorm room. (Again, it reminded me of pregnancy, when I was overwhelmed by the long list of things I needed to buy.) The big-box stores carry just about everything, but a more targeted inventory is available through several online retailers that specialize in dorm room decor. is one such company. It was launched three years ago by two cousins, Shanil Wazirali, 26, and Sagar Hemani, 24, had been overwhelmed by the cost and frustrated by the amount of stuff they needed to outfit their dorm rooms. Wazirali explained in an e-mail, "We didn't want other students to be tricked into buying everything stores told them they 'needed,' overspending the way we did. We took surveys on our own campuses to understand what students actually ended up buying versus using. We then curated packages to create a shopping experience that would be easy for parents and students to get the true essentials, all in one box."

The company offers three packages: The most basic (mostly bedding and towels plus a much-needed clip-on fan) costs $175, a mid-range level is $239 (with added items including a shower caddy, flip flops, plastic dishes and a set of utensils), and a deluxe level is $299 (whose additions include a bulletin/whiteboard, computer speakers and a first aid kit). Buyers specify the package as well as color and pattern preference (there are 10 schemes to choose from). Dorm it Up delivers it for free to the student's dorm.

Students who prefer a la carte shopping might prefer, which promises affordable prices for bedding, bath and laundry needs, organizing, decorating and studying supplies, and even security and safety products. The company says it can keep prices low because it started as a wholesaler that, with the advent of online shopping, began selling directly to the consumer. Almost everything ships from its Buffalo warehouse within 24 hours for a flat $2.95 per order. targets its high-end dorm room furnishings to the affluent sorority set. The company, based in Charlotte, was started in 2013 by Leigh Goodwyn and Leigh-ann Sprock after Goodwyn's oldest daughter had difficulty finding stylish bedding in the XL twin size that the dorm beds required. The two Leighs (hence the deux in the name) quickly realized there was a demand for upscale dorm furnishings. The company sells much of what you would expect — bedding, bulletin boards, lighting, mirrors, rugs — but also offers less common items such as privacy curtain panels for showers and closets and personalized removable wall monograms. They have become well-known for their headboard pillows — large flat pillows in the shape of an upholstered headboard for $179.

LeighDeux's prices are comparatively high, but the company sells only products made in the Carolinas, with a goal to add jobs in the South. It also donates 3 percent of its proceeds for scholarships, and it recruits campus reps and brand ambassadors who promote the product on social media, with a side goal of fostering female entrepreneurship.

A referral culture is key to the marketing strategy of the other companies, too. Dorm it Up gives each customer a unique referral code to share with friends. When used, the code automatically applies a $20 credit to the original customer and the code recipient to be used toward future purchases. Dorm Co. encourages students to spread the word by offering a cash commission on any sales they generate by posting a unique code on their social sites and emails.

So in a month when my daughter goes off to her first year of college, she will do so with a roommate of her choosing and the potential to make some money — all thanks to social media. So much for me nagging her to get off of her computer.