Locker-tech companies try to solve apartment delivery hassles

A Package Concierge locker storage system was installed at the ECO Allston apartment building.
Package Concierge
A Package Concierge locker storage system was installed at the ECO Allston apartment building.

Anyone who has lived in an apartment complex has probably encountered that pile of delivery boxes tucked behind the front desk, waiting for residents to claim their latest haul from Amazon.

Entrepreneurs are betting there’s a promising business hiding in that heap of cardboard.

A growing number of companies, including the Medfield startup Package Concierge, are seeking to outfit apartment buildings with banks of high-tech lockers that can serve as a mail drop for packages.

Apartment managers are spending an increasing share of their time wrangling with deliveries. Residents can have trouble getting their packages if a building doesn’t offer concierge service after typical working hours, said Georgianna Oliver, founder and chief executive of Package Concierge.

“It’s turned into a full-time job at a property. And apartment buildings don’t have excess cash to hire more and more people,” Oliver said.

Package Concierge’s approach is typical among the companies targeting the problem. The company sells wall-mounted steel lockers of varying sizes, configured to hold common shipping boxes. Access is controlled by a computer that lets a delivery driver look up a resident’s name and open a locker of the right size.

Once the package is dropped off, the system can generate a text, e-mail, or phone call to alert the resident the package has arrived. The resident can then unlock the locker at any time, instead of waiting around at home for a delivery or heading to a shipping facility after several missed attempts.

Package Concierge also plans to introduce a package pickup feature, allowing apartment dwellers to leave outbound packages in lockers to be retrieved by shipping services.

Shipping and e-commerce companies have begun using systems like this for their own customers. Amazon, for example, has tested delivery lockers in some markets, while UPS has similar systems at some retail stores.

Package Concierge has trained Postal Service carriers and drivers from private companies to use its system, Oliver said. While it may take more time to drop off each package, compared to dumping them at the front desk, Oliver pitches drivers on the promise of fewer missed or incorrect deliveries.

“We definitely experience pockets of resistance,” she said. “But once they use it, they love it.”

Apartment managers are showing some interest. Package Concierge, which was founded in late 2012, says it has handled some 500,000 packages in 18 states.

National Development, a property developer based in Newton Lower Falls, has installed Package Concierge systems in two of its properties in Allston and plans to add several more in the near future.

The trend is too new to yield any hard measurements of value, but “conceptually, we think it is a great idea,” said Jessica Buonopane, a National Development vice president.

“It’s certainly the kind of service that property companies are considering, if they can manage the hurdles of the upfront installation cost and the physical installation process,” said Ed Cafasso, a WinnCompanies spokesman. The Boston apartment developer has installed Package Concierge in its Chelsea Place apartments.

Oliver declined to disclose her company’s sales, but a federal regulatory filing from January showed revenue of less than $1 million. The startup has raised about $1.3 million from undisclosed backers.

Package Concierge charges $20,000 to $40,000 for a typical installation but doesn’t actually make money on putting lockers in buildings. Sometimes, it even loses on the installation, Oliver said.

Instead, the startup is banking on the monthly revenue stream from licensing­ its software and tech support services to keep the locker systems running, a fee that starts at $100 per month.

“People think they’re buying lockers, but really they’re buying software,” Oliver said.