May. 19, 2020
Online ordering and home deliveries have exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic and Canadian parcel locker companies LocKourier and Snaile Lockers are well-positioned to benefit from the trend.
The increase in parcel and other deliveries means managing the flow has become a primary function of front-line building staff, taking time away from other duties. According to a Snaile survey of Akelius-owned apartment buildings in Canada, it takes an average of just under 10 minutes to deal with each parcel.
This includes time for front-line staff to accept and sign for the parcel, then log the tracking number, intended recipient and storage location. They must then notify the recipient and hope the resident retrieves the parcel after the first call. When the resident arrives at reception, the staff member needs to get the parcel from its storage place and log its retrieval.
At buildings without door staff, parcels left in lobbies, hallways and vestibules are vulnerable to theft or loss and can violate fire codes. Even in designated mail rooms, some packages don’t fit in existing compartments and often the storage areas are only meant for Canada Post carriers.
Enter companies such as LocKourier and Snaile.
LocKourier’s roots lie in a partnership with American companies Luxer One and Laundry Locker, which resulted in president and chief executive officer Joseph Collins launching Laundry Concierge in Toronto in 2013.
As the focus shifted from dry cleaning to package delivery solutions for multiresidential, office and retail locations, however, the laundry group was sold in December to enable Collins to dedicate his full attention to LocKourier.
The Toronto-based company now works with the likes of Tridel, Bosa Properties, RioCan REIT, Killam Apartment REIT and GWL Realty Advisors to offer parcel locker solutions in their buildings.
The American company is contracted to manufacture the lockers, which have a lifetime warranty.
“Our team hasn’t slowed and our regular project calls with our real estate developer partners remain steady,” Collins told RENX. “What has seen a dramatic uptick are new conversations with property managers in existing condos and apartments dealing with COVID-19.
“They are asking our team how to manage the increased delivery load and reduce the spread of the virus by minimizing the interactions of delivery staff, building staff and residents.”
LocKourier has installed the Luxer systems in more than 100 Canadian buildings. Across North America, orders and installations for the Luxer lockers eclipsed 4,000 at the end of 2019. Seventy-five per cent are in multifamily buildings, 20 per cent in retail locations and five per cent in offices.
The goal of the LocKourier system is to remove management from package-handling and let carriers do it all.
How the parcel lockers work
Each building has a unique code for each carrier. Management provides carriers with this code, which they use to access the building and make deliveries through an automated system.
Once logged in via a touch screen, the carrier selects the resident and size of locker, then loads the package.
Carriers can specify if a signature is required so when residents pick up the package, they sign the touch screen before the locker opens.
Two 110-volt outlets and a wired Internet connection with an upload speed of at least 500 kilobytes are required for installation.
The installation of a LocKourier system for a 250-unit condo typically costs about $25,000, plus an annual support fee. Support is offered 24 hours a day, seven days a week via phone, text and e-mail through Luxer One’s 200-plus-member team.
“We have added community advertising to our app so that, in this time of isolation affecting so many small, local, family-owned businesses, we can offer a place for local restaurants and retailers to reach customers in their homes and provide service, keeping our communities alive and afloat,” Collins said.
LocKourier can also provide commercial-grade True refrigerators equipped with a similar parcel locking system for grocery deliveries to multifamily buildings. Collins expects True to have freezers ready for specific environments and clients in Q3 2020.
Collins said LocKourier can offer solutions for single-family residences, though it doesn’t focus on that market.
A Snaile building parcel locker system, with its touch-screen interface. (Courtesy Snaile)
Snaile was founded in 2015 to design and manufacture smart sensors and related software to upgrade existing keyed parcel and letter mailboxes. The Mississauga-based company has 14 employees, 30 seats in a bilingual (French and English) call centre, and 18 in-field teams for on-site and technical support across Canada.
Its software is developed and maintained within the SnaileCloud, which is hosted in Montreal. Assembly is handled by Snaile in Mississauga, with distribution and installations handled by AMJ Campbell’s specialty commercial fixture installation teams.
Snaile’s multi-unit automated parcel lockers are accessible by all carriers and secured with two-tier authentication. Building occupants receive notification of a delivery by mobile phone or e-mail and then collect their package from a locker using a six-digit code.
Snaile operates lockers in almost 200 locations in 23 Canadian cities for more than 50 real estate players, including Oxford Properties, Starlight Investments, Hollyburn Properties, Akelius, Minto, Cogir Real Estate, KingSett Capital, Westbank, Townline, Canderel, Shiplake and Strategic Group.
Ninety-five per cent of current installations are in traditional multiresidential buildings and school residences. There are a few systems in co-working spaces and one in an office tower for Ontario Power Generation.
“The balance of our installations are in retail/distribution applications, such as with The UPS Store, Purolator and WESCO Canada,” Snaile CEO Patrick Armstrong told RENX.
“For WESCO, we built a custom pipe locker to dispense standard 10-foot pipe lengths.”
The size and cost for a Snaile system in a multiresidential building depends on its unit count and age demographic, with more lockers recommended for those with younger residents who are prone to order more online.
The cost for 200 units, taking up a five-metre-wide space, is about $25,000. This includes an oversized expansion unit to handle larger parcels and several days of on-site support following the installation.
Who is buying parcel lockers
While new installations have temporarily stalled due to COVID-19 restrictions, Snaile’s call centre, account manager and software developer support has been unaffected. On-site support is being handled on a case-by-case basis.
Armstrong estimates Canada is about five years behind the United States and 10 years behind Europe in adoption of parcel lockers.
“We are seeing an increase in condominium inquiries looking for a low-contact solution for parcels, instead of having to rely on face-to-face interactions or their concierge,” said Armstrong.
“We are also seeing an increase in interest from retailers wanting to provide ‘buy online, pick up in-store’ applications with our lockers.”
Snaile offers both refrigerated and freezer smart lockers which can tether to its main master unit.
Recent innovations include a French, English and Mandarin locker interface, and a cold-weather outdoor upgrade pack that includes full stainless steel and an electronic heater.
While Armstrong expects a short-term lull in business, he sees things getting back on track in the fourth quarter. He also believes e-commerce will become more entrenched the longer the COVID-19 crisis goes on, with growth in groceries, cannabis, prescriptions and tools.
With doorstep theft of packages becoming an increasing problem for single-family houses, Snaile is developing a home-based smart parcel locker owners can affix to their houses and connect to WiFi.