An Interview with the Vegan Trade Council

Vegan Trade Council

We are pleased to interview Joe McCutcheon, president, of Carolina Castile Soap.

VTC: What is Castile Soap, and how can it be used?

Joe: The history of Castile soap originates from the Castile Region of Spain. Castile soap started off to mean strictly a soap made from Olive Oil. Castile soap has evolved to refer to any soap made from the saponification of vegetable oils. You will notice that, although all of our Castile soaps contain olive oil, they also all contain coconut oil and any combination of other vegetable oils. Coconut oil gives soap a nice bubbly lather and is great for cleaning. We add in other oils for conditioning purpose and to give our soap body. We especially love to use cocoa butter in our soap. All of our soaps contain either mostly or all organic oils.​

​VTC: How and when did the idea for Carolina Castile Soap begin?

Joe: Carolina Castile Soap was born from another small business we started eight years ago, a residential green cleaning company that serves the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area of North Carolina. Triangle Green Cleaning started using our soaps to clean houses with.

VTC: Why did you decide to focus a business around castile soap?

Joe: We wanted to bring all-natural products to our residential cleaning customers – and then to consumers – at a fair and reasonable price.

VTC: Is there any particular meaning behind your name and logo?

Joe: Not more than meets the eye, really. We are based in North Carolina, a place we love. North Carolina has beautiful beaches and historic lighthouses. We felt the lighthouse represents North Carolina well.

VTC: How is Carolina Castile Soap unique? How do you differ from your industry colleagues?

Joe: It is unique from other Castile soaps in several ways. Our proudest unique aspect is that olive oil is the highest oil ingredient. Soap made from olive oil is particularly gentle on the skin. While coconut oil can be great for your skin when it’s still an oil, it can be drying to the skin once it is turned into soap.  Many Castile soap companies use coconut oil as their number one oil ingredient, because it’s inexpensive and creates lots of bubbles. The bubbles are great, and we do incorporate coconut oil into our soaps. However, a soap made with coconut oil as the number one oil ingredient can be particularly harsh and drying. They also give a “bubbles only” lather.

VTC: With what products did Carolina Castile Soap first launch? How was it decided to launch with those products?

Joe: We first launched with Orange, Tea Tree, Lavender, Peppermint, and Unscented. We kept it simple at first in an effort to do a few things but do them really well. We’ve since introduced a Lemon Castile soap made from Organic Lemon Oil. We are also about to release a Eucalyptus Castile Soap in the coming weeks.

VTC: How did you decide to expand your product line, and why did you choose to include those specific products?

Joe: For our Lemon Castile Soap, we actually had a customer ask if we had an intention of making a lemon-scented Castile soap at some point. We thought it was a great idea, so we tried it out and fell in love with it.

VTC: What factors go into the decision to create new products to add to the existing product line?

Joe: We always want to feel good about the products we make. If we don’t love it, we won’t make it. A big part of the decision-making process is creating a product we can stand behind, both in the appeal to the aesthetics of the product and in the integrity of the ingredients. We want to make products from ingredients that people feel good about putting on their body’s largest organ, their skin.

VTC: How much time goes into the development of a new product once there is the idea?

Joe: We want to take as much time as needed, so we can feel that a product is ready for market wide use prior to release. Ultimately, the amount of time can vary from product to product. The time is really dependent on developing the product itself and sourcing ingredients from suppliers that we can stand behind.

VTC: You have a statement on your website that your products comply with the Corporate Standard of Compassion for Animals as established by Leaping Bunny. How important is it for a company to make such declarations and to obtain such certifications?

Joe: I think it is very important to make declarations like this, because so often today we make assumptions as consumers that the companies that we purchase from are practicing integrity, when in fact they are not.

VTC: Do you use castile soap? Do you have a favorite product?

Joe: They say that if you do something you love, you’ll never work another day in your life. I truly love Castile soap. My favorite is our Lemon Castile Soap. The smell is so sweet and fruity. It reminds me of the Lemonhead candy that I used to eat as a kid. My favorite use is in the shower. I literally use it for everything in the shower. I shampoo with it, body wash, and even use it as a shaving soap.

VTC: Do you have any new products on the horizon?

Joe: We do! We’re excited to be working on our newest scent of Castile Soap – Eucalyptus. It’s completely through the development process and is only being held back by the manufacturing queue that we are in. With the holiday season here, we are busy making our other scents right now. And, as soon as our equipment becomes available, we’ll be making our first, for sale batch of Eucalyptus Castile Soap. It will have organic olive oil, organic coconut oil, organic cocoa butter, kukui nut oil and organic eucalyptus oil. I think it will be right on time for the cold season. I had a cold recently, and it worked to soothe my sinuses while showering with it. We hope to have it up for sale before the end of the year.

VTC: Where are your products sold? How does the online market differ from the brick and mortar market?

Joe: We make most of our sales online, mostly via Amazon. We have been really pleased in working with Amazon. They have an outstanding business model that benefits and works for companies like ours. We ship them cases of our inventory, and they, in turn, ship out on our behalf whenever a customer places an order. They pass along affordable shipping that they’ve negotiated with carriers. This saves us time to focus on the aspects of our company that inspire us the most, such as finding great suppliers and making products that our customers love.

We do sell some product in brick and mortar stores, such as Whole Foods and some smaller shops.

We’ve found that Amazon is friendlier to smaller companies like us than brick and mortar stores are. The larger grocery stores and retail outlets tend to take a bigger piece of the sale and are much more difficult to get your foot in the door with. Amazon really gives smaller companies like us the opportunity to get our foot in the door and then prove ourselves, as evidenced with our online customer reviews.

VTC: How do you position your products?

Joe: We try to communicate our products as being the best value out there. Contrary to many other Castile soap manufacturers, we use skin-loving soaps (olive soap, kukui soap, cocoa butter soap) as the most prominent soaps in our formula. We don’t compromise on the quality of our product in order to make a higher profit. Our soaps are also priced below “The Other Castile Soap Company.” So, we feel we are giving the best value out there. We also incorporate some pretty unique ingredients to Castile soap like kukui nut oil.

VTC: How do you approach retailers and have them dedicate shelf space to your products?

Joe: Consumers love having options when they go shopping for something. We offer customers something different than what they are used to seeing. We use unique oils, offer a better price with a smaller company, and use a beautiful label that keeps its focus on what’s inside and how to use it.

VTC: What marketing techniques proved most successful when Carolina Castile Soap first started?

Joe: Something I learned while building our Green Cleaning company  was to keep it simple and get the basics right. So, early on we just focused on having a solid online presence through our website and social media. Search engine optimization is so important. I really can’t emphasize that enough. Word of mouth has been big, as well. When customers enjoy a product, they want to share it with friends. I know I do!

VTC: How have you had to modify your approach over time, if at all?

Joe: We’re not too far off on our approach from how we set out. We’re really just trying to keep things simple and focus on what we do best for right now. There may be room for some other product categories going forward, but for now we’re just doing what’s in front of us.

VTC: Where do you see Carolina Castile Soap in the short and long term?

Joe: In the short term, I see us continuing to expand our scents in the liquid Castile soap category. We have experience developing Castile soap in bar form and hope to have something available in bar format soon, as well. In the long term, we see ourselves being able to improve our ingredient sourcing even further. With larger volume comes purchasing power, and we hope to be able to use more ingredients that are fair trade certified in the long run. For now, we are using fair trade cocoa butter. It’s a start. We obviously hope to grow our company in general, but mostly we hope to bring Castile soap more mainstream. I’m really surprised at how many times someone asks me “What IS Castile soap?”

VTC: Do you have any advice for your fellow industry members?

Joe: Re-invest in your company when possible. When there is extra money on hand, use it to improve your product, your process, and your company. Also, don’t cut corners. Customers want to buy from companies that have integrity and that make products with integrity.

VTC: What have been some challenges you have faced?

Joe: Getting our product on brick and mortar shelves has been a challenge we’ve faced. We’re pleased with the progress we’ve made, but we hope to focus more on this in the coming months.

VTC: How do you see the market for vegan and/or cruelty-free products growing or changing?

Joe: The trend clearly seems to be going up, and I can’t see why this would change any time soon.

VTC: Have you noticed any economic or social trends affecting Carolina Castile Soap or the vegan industry in general?

Joe: We definitely see more people wanting fair trade certified ingredients. We already incorporate one fair trade ingredient, and we hope to switch more of our ingredients to fair trade in the future.

VTC: Thank you very much, Joe. Like so many others, I was unaware of Castile soap and its benefits and uses. I will definitely look for it on my next shopping trip.

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