Story | 06/25/2024 11:09:51 | 4 min Read time

Cutting edge – UPM Paso de los Toros pulp mill boosts barbershop business

Agustin Blanco traded in a career in the police force for his own barbershop in Uruguay’s Paso de los Toros. The UPM Paso de los Toros pulp mill on the outskirts of town has provided the new entrepreneur with a steady stream of customers.

Agustin Blanco founded his eponymous barbershop, La barbería Agustin Blanco, in the small town of Paso de los Toros in 2019.

The decision was made after a radical career change from his previous job as a police officer patrolling Uruguay's national highways. Along with his police work, he took a barbering course and began practicing his new profession, cutting the hair of friends, neighbours, and acquaintances.

"I found that I really liked being a barber, so I quit the police force and started barbering at home." 

Today, Blanco has two barbershops of his own: one in his hometown of Paso de los Toros and another in San Gregorio de Polanco, around 100 kilometres away. Blanco's classic barbershops offer a wide range of barbering services, from traditional haircuts and beards to bolder hair trends. Currently colours and highlights are a big hit with Uruguayan men. 

In Paso de los Toros, Blanco has moved his shop several times in search of the perfect spot. Now it’s located on one of the busiest and most central streets in the town of 15,000 inhabitants. 

"We have grown steadily. It's a family business because my wife works there, in addition to four other employees," says Blanco. 

Breathing new life into the town 

Around the same time that Blanco's barbershop in Paso de los Toros was set up, UPM’s pulp mill was being built about ten kilometres outside of town. Blanco describes how life in his small and quiet hometown was transformed by the mill project. 

"The change was obvious, as there were more people on the move than before, and the demand for labour increased immediately. I think the influx of customers, especially during the construction phase, was one of the key factors that enabled my company to grow." 

During the peak of the construction period from 2019 to 2023, even 7,000 people worked on the mill site, and the entire construction project brought 20,000 people to Paso de los Toros. This more than doubled the town's population of around 15,000. 

Naturally, the project workers needed various services – including a barber – during the project, and Blanco's centrally located establishment managed to attract clients. Soon, many of them turned into regular customers. 

"We multiplied the daily number of customers from around ten to about 30-50 a day." 

The fast-spreading COVID pandemic of 2020 caught everyone by surprise, but by taking safety precautions Blanco's team continued working, as the number of customers remained on a high level. 

Loyal customers from the mill 

The new pulp mill began operating about a year ago, in the spring of 2023, and there is still a steady flow of customers sitting in Blanco's barber chairs – usually around 30-40 a day, or even up to 100 in total on weekends. 

Of course, not all the customers are from the mill, but Blanco believes it has generated a loyal clientele. Some of the people working on the mill project have been coming to his barbershop for years. 

"They have become loyal customers and help to spread word-of-mouth recommendations.” 

A cut above the rest 

Blanco's business is booming, and he is happy to see his hometown more vibrant than before. The father of two sees the activity brought about by the UPM pulp mill as moving the city in a better direction and wants to be involved in building the future of Paso de los Toros. 

"We don't want to be just another barbershop – we want to stand out from the competition. For example, things such as cleanliness and the shops’ appearance are important to me and can make many people choose us.” 

Blanco doesn't believe that his company's success came by accident. 

"We have been working hard for this for years – investing in our shops, training and marketing. Our clients have noticed this as well.” 

 

Text: Anna Venejärvi 

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