Viarco, in São João da Madeira, 40 kilometres from Porto, is home to the only pencil factory on the Iberian Peninsula, and is where experienced hands continue, more than 110 years after its foundation, to produce thousands of pencils each day. The pencils are of all colours, shapes, sizes and qualities. The process remains essentially artisanal and attracts tourists to the company every day. Viarco pencils can be found in hotels and museums around the world, including at the Guggenheim in Bilbao and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. They can also be found in the CW Pencils store, in SoHo, New York, where the jasmine and lavender-scented pencils and Viarco’s vintage collections are a huge hit.
Today, José Vieira and his wife, Ana, the fourth generation at the head of the company, are Viarco’s only shareholders. The company was founded as Portugália in Vila do Conde in 1907. In 1931, José’s great-grandfather Manuel Vieira Araújo, an experienced hat maker and prominent figure in São João da Madeira, bought the company. In 1936 Viarco (Vieira Araújo e Companhia, Lda) was registered, and in 1941 the factory moved to São João da Madeira where it remains today in the same buildings, which are currently being classified a Municipal Heritage place of interest.
This is one way of ‘preserving the company’s legacy, including its knowledge’, given that inside this almost 80-year-old factory there are a number of old machines, many of which have no operating manuals, making it crucial that the operators’ knowledge is safeguarded. As part of its continuing investment in digitization, Viarco is currently creating a platform on which all this information can be made available.
After a hiatus of almost three decades, investment is the name of the game at this company that is more than 100 years old, and which has machinery from throughout the twentieth century alongside the latest printing and silk-screen printing machines and where state-of-the-art LED technology is being used to dry the inks. This 400,000 euro investment in innovation and internationalization was supported by Portugal 2020. It is an example of how tradition and modernity can, and should, go hand in hand. Today Viarco produces more than just pencils. Or rather, the company has found ways to add value to pencils, by creating a new range of products, such as sticks and graphite watercolours, designed for the art market and which is sold under the name Art Graf. This range gives the Portuguese company its greatest international projection and makes up 30% of the company’s sales while also promoting its more traditional pencils. If you are curious, go to lojaonline.viarco.pt where you can get more information about the company’s products.
Viarco currently welcomes around 10,000 visitors every year as part of the São João da Madeira Industrial Tourism project. Most, but not all of them are schoolchildren. Some are tourists from as far afield as Korea, Argentina and Chile. José Vieira acknowledges 10,000 may seem like a “small” number, but he assures us that this generates more than enough income to pay the tour guides who know every nook and cranny. And no one can visit Viarco and its fantastic Factory Shop without taking a souvenir home.
With 30 employees and the ability to produce 100,000 pencils each day, this year the company is expecting to make more than 750,000 euros in sales, 50% of which will be in international markets, particularly in the United States and Europe, as well as in Australia, South Korea and India, among many others.
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