Meeting the King-Size Challenge of Parcel Management at Multifamily Residences

It’s not just about managing the volume, it’s about securing the deliveries as well.

Eric GattoniWith more people embracing online shopping, the influx of packages coming through the front doors of multifamily buildings is sure to continue. What used to be a challenge around the holidays has become a year-round marathon to accept, organize and store everything in a secure manner for residents. And now, with back to school season rapidly approaching, we are bound to see a spike in deliveries with everything from textbooks and school supplies to clothes and shoes.

But it’s not just about managing the volume, it’s about securing the deliveries as well. Initially, residents mostly ordered inexpensive items. Now we frequently receive electronics, luxury gifts, jewelry and the like. This proliferation of high-price purchases has put a special onus on property management, front desk and concierge staff to guarantee their security.

There is also the “unique” purchase that requires special accommodations. For example, the most surprising thing I’ve seen delivered was a king-size mattress that was purchased online and propped behind the front desk waiting to be sent to the unit because there was no other place to store it.

The surge of e-commerce deliveries isn’t going to abate any time soon, but there are effective solutions through teamwork, technology and front desk innovations, to manage the volume—and ultimately delivery—of packages to residents.

Adopt a team approach

If a parcel room is a distance from the front desk, associates may have to leave to retrieve a package. That can cause issues with building access control and security. Ideally, the property manager or an alternate employee temporarily covers for the front desk associate as needed. This team strategy works well for us at FirstService Residential.

Speaking of working as a team, property managers should partner with condominium boards to create effective solutions to overcome this challenge. Increasing the number of front desk associates during peak times can alleviate some of the strain from package management and other tasks. Some property managers hesitate to suggest additional investments because of sensitivity to condo budgets. However, a lot of things can go wrong—and lead to unexpected costs—when packages are not secured properly. Temporary investments in additional staffing may be the more prudent solution in the long run.

Technology to the rescue

An electronic package tracking and communication system really helps. Years ago, a front desk associate signaled the arrival of a package by taping a note to the resident’s mailbox. Technology now makes the process more accurate, private and secure.

When a parcel arrives at a multi-tenant condominium managed by FirstService Residential, we log it into FSRConnect, our proprietary property management software. The system immediately notifies residents via e-mail or text. Although this solution is technology-based, it’s also very personal and private. No one else besides the front desk associate and resident knows about the package.

Focus on security and liability

Safeguarding packages immediately is critical. Most front desks get busy at times. With many residents and visitors walking in, parcels left on the desk can easily be stolen. In a large city like Toronto, pedestrians frequently stroll past and into buildings without the intention to visit a resident. That’s a real threat to security and we need to remain vigilant.

Our front desk associates are trained to log, track and secure packages. They also greet people they do not recognize and require all visitors to sign in. This training is part of our mission to provide both security and a concierge level of service.

Consider creative solutions

Many developers have not yet adjusted their blueprints to the demands that increasing e-commerce places on the front desk. They may think a 10 x 10 parcel room suffices year-round. When the holidays start, however, so does the scramble to accept, store and manage all the parcels that no longer fit.

One of the condo buildings we manage installed beautiful, floor-to-ceiling cabinets behind the front desk. The cabinets lock and provide convenient access for package storage. As a bonus, the cabinetry makes the lobby look more elegant.

A flexible, multipurpose room can also be the answer to a building with a tiny parcel room, but it comes with a caveat: discipline is critical. If a room is designated 50 percent for package storage and 50 percent for another use during slower times, and everyone agrees to convert it to 100 percent for parcels during the holidays, it only works when everyone commits to the changeover. If the contents of 50 percent of the room not associated with package storage do not get relocated as promised, then the pile up starts again and the holidays arrive.

Eric Gattoni is vice president of property services at FirstService Residential in Toronto