The Printer: 2020’s Most Popular Amenity

by Jonathan Treble

At the start of 2020, if property managers had been asked to rank their most popular amenities, it probably would have gone something like this: 

  1. Fitness center
  2. Pool
  3. Clubhouse
  4. Dog run
  5. Rooftop patio

However, as the year unfolded and health safety precautions were implemented, those big-ticket property features have been primarily:

  1. Closed
  2. Closed
  3. Closed
  4. Closed
  5. Mercifully open, with occupancy restrictions
  6. Closed 

Flash forward 11 months, and take a minute to honestly assess your community’s amenities in 2020. Which of your amenities has seen the most use this year? No, Zoom, Netflix and Amazon aren’t amenities. 

It has probably been your printer. 

Keeping Kids Occupied and Educated

When the pandemic forced many schools to close in March, office teams nationwide stepped up for their youngest residents by printing out coloring pages and puzzle games and distributing them to grateful families. While it may have been a seemingly small gesture, it was a thoughtful touch that was incredibly well received by parents. 

As the months progressed, parents took a page out of that same playbook. Whether they were printing out distance learning assignments for their kids, or copying activity pages to keep them occupied, onsite teams know how often they fielded resident requests, asking, “Could you just print this worksheet for me?” or “Can I get another copy of this?”. Fewer people than ever before own their own printers, so turning to property staff for free printing help became a natural solution for parents.

When the fall semester commenced and students resumed their remote or hybrid routines, those requests were amplified. Previously, college students would have completed their coursework on campus. High schoolers would have printed college applications and scanned scholarship forms at the school’s library or counseling office. Those older students now have unanticipated printing, copying and scanning needs, and often no means to complete those tasks on their own.

Home Offices Need Full Services

With more residents working from home with greater regularity, they need more than just a place to dock their laptops and take calls. They need everything that the workplace once provided, which includes copying, scanning, printing and fax capabilities. 

Residents are turning to their onsite teams for assistance, whether it’s printing off a resume or a 50-page RFP response. Management companies might be surprised to learn how much time their office teams spend accommodating such non-revenue generating requests, not to mention the material costs they’re burning through. Purchasing at retail prices, properties are spending upwards of $1,000 each month just to maintain their printer paper and toner supplies. 

Printers and Ink Suddenly Scarce

While residents might have ordinarily purchased a personal printer/scanner/copier to fulfill their amplified work or school needs in 2020, the printer aisles at office supply stores have resembled the toilet paper aisles at grocery stores for much of the pandemic. The selection has been sparse. And it has been the same situation for replacement ink and toner cartridges. 

The instant demand brought on by the pandemic created a purchasing rush on printers that manufacturers haven’t been able to keep up with. And ink production has slowed dramatically due to a shortage of ethanol and n-propanol, which are the same ingredients needed to make disinfectants and hand sanitizers.

Even if a resident owned a personal printer prior to the pandemic, the odds aren’t good that they would have been able to source the ink they need to keep it viable. The same holds true for leasing office equipment.

Community Printers Solve Potential Problems

Property managers are beginning to recognize not only the importance of providing a community printer amenity but also the value in outsourcing that amenity. Engaging a third-party service that supplies a self-serve printer/scanner/copier, automatically maintains paper, ink and toner levels, and services the equipment as needed, lifts an enormous burden from onsite associates. And it enables the leasing teams to focus on prospective residents and customer service, rather than printing requests. 

New printing technology provides conveniences to residents, like the ability to print wirelessly from their own devices, but also addresses emerging concerns for operators. 

Technology partners that provide printer services to multifamily typically have direct pipelines to manufacturers, which eliminate the dependency on the frequently barren shelves at office supply stores. And they acquire printing materials at a savings that they can then pass on to the property.

Furthermore, resident privacy laws continue to expand in most states, and leasing office printers are a potential point of vulnerability. The good news is that the user authentication software deployed by reliable printer tech vendors eliminates those concerns. Printers equipped with encryption and secure release codes even prevent unauthorized individuals from retrieving unattended print jobs, reducing the risk of exposing private information or sensitive data.

As resident printing requests achieved newfound popularity at multifamily properties this year, the need for professional, third-party printing amenity solutions may have also become a necessity. 

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