Luxury brand eCommerce and international growth with Freddie Sawkins from Czech & Speake (episode 264)

Freddie Sawkins is a director at Czech & Speake and manages eCommerce, and international development. Czech and Speake an international luxury retail brand and family run business. Launched in 1978 Freddie joined in 2017 to establish and grow the eCommerce business in the UK and around the world. They now turnover £2m per year.

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Getting into eCommerce

Freddie got started in eCommerce via the world of finance and investment management. From his career in finance he landed in commodity brokering— a very niche area of capital markets.

After doing that for a couple of years, Freddie knew he wanted to do something more scientific and ended up at a pharmaceutical company selling consumer facing products where he eventually worked up to product manager.

That job taught him how to manage every aspect of a product and he says he learned that he has a special affinity for marketing. Near the end of his tenure there, digital commerce was taking off and a colleague helped him understand the nuances of possibilities that online had to offer. 

About Czeche and Speake

Czeche and Speake specializes in an unusual product mix—bath fittings, leather goods and men’s grooming. The mix derives from Freddie’s father Frank’s job as a designer and a passionate side hobby collecting and cultivating grooming and bathing products. In 2017, Freddie’s dad convinced him to come over to the company and focus on growing the online brand.

Freddie admits there have been some challenges with such different product offerings and today they still offer all their products, but with an express emphasis on grooming product. Fixture production, Freddie says is a much more complicated, heavy process and after the credit crunch and a bath fitting factory burning down, Czech & Speake has happily focuses on grooming, which allows them to easily market to their own end customer and handle more aspects of the business independently. 


Czeche & Speake uses WordPress—though Freddie says if he were to build from the ground up today he’d probably go Shopify.

Instead, he’s been focusing on cleaning house—reconciling the different CMS’s and domain names for the different sectors of their brand that were purchased and mobilized before his time. Freddie says that the brand is pretty old fashioned and coming on board full time has provided some challenges updating old systems. 

Cleaning House

When he came on, Freddie began by trimming down the glut of online wholesalers and Amazon sellers that were selling Czech & Speake product. He cleared the decks in order to begin growing the health of the brand. Getting the systems right was a game changer.

Just having passive invoices created at the point of sale (rather than manual entry) made scaling the business possible where it hadn’t been before. Those old systems were not only slowing sales down, but made top of the line decisions harder since the data was difficult to rely on. For Freddie, the three years spent have been well worth it as the business begins to grow. 

Marketing and Brand

The company is lucky because they are an established enough brand to have some really amazing editorial relationships. For his part, Freddie has been focusing more on creating new branding material that comes straight from the website and Czech & Speake channels.

Influencers are not a favorite tool for the brand and they emphasize working with real customers who are thrilled to receive their product and are true brand evangelists. 

Looking Ahead

Freddie shares that there are a few projects in the works, the most exciting of which is happening in China. That market is of great interest and the team is creating a platform to work on Watrix—a leading Chinese app.

For Freddie, the possibilities are huge in China. Before the internet, entering the Chinese market was extremely difficult. The brand story was challenging to replicate and POS taxes are so high they are largely debilitating. Before, Chinese shoppers found it cheaper to actually fly to places like the UK but now they can access smaller luxury brands online.

The biggest stumbling block was capital, but recently the company built a Magento II site that acts as an intermediary between Czech and Speake and the Chinese access. Another great project is a 3PL center in the United States to service North American markets. Fragrance is extremely hard to ship due to chemical content and safety concerns on commercial airliners, so Freddie is excited about this development.

eCommerce Book Top Tip

eCommerce Traffic Top Tip

  • Diversification
  • Google Shopping—Using description of product rather than the business name which has helped SEO and driven placement

Tool Top Tip

Growth Top Tip

  • Set the bar high and be bullish with your forecast
  • Get your numbers in order and know your key figures. Doing a true customer acquisition cost is very helpful

Interview Links

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  • Wines with Attitude’s Linsay Cornelissen – mobile apps, customer focus, and increasing customers 20% yoy

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