Debbie Harrison learned about business early. The company that she and her brother Mark now run was started by their parents Moira and Doug in 1978. “They worked six and a half days a week,” she says. “Our Mum would pick us up from school and then it was into the garage price labelling stock with her trying to pretend it was a game!” School holidays were spent roller-skating around the warehouse.

Their parents’ startup was a specialist health and beauty distributor. Mark and Debbie fully took over the reins of the Sheffield-based company in 2007, with Mark focused on finance and operations and Debbie on trading. Its turnover was then £17m.

The second generation have taken it forward. In this year’s Scaleup Index Pricecheck is one of the top eight longest scaling companies in the country. 

“Over the past five years, so that’s including Brexit and Covid, our average growth rate has been 15.5%,” says Debbie Harrison. “For our year to April 2022 turnover was £112m and we are on track to reach about £130m in this financial year.” 

Pricecheck is aiming for an annual 15% growth rate over the next three years – in other words, to become a £200m business. Its growth to date has been self-financed.

The company currently employs around 300 people. “We are employing 17% more people in November this year than we were this time last year.”

Everything about Pricecheck has happened at dramatic pace. “We moved into a new head office just over six years ago, thinking it was going to be our ten-year building. We outgrew it in two.” 

The company now sells groceries, alcohol, premium cosmetics and fragrances, gift items, over the counter medicines and household cleaning products. “You can literally fill a store with the range that we offer,” she says. But calling Pricecheck a wholesaler conjures up a picture of large cash and carry sheds. That’s emphatically not the case.

“We have always been a delivered wholesaler,” she says, “and we’ve really taken that to the next level. We are a sales force available for hire. We provide brand owners with a targeted approach to new markets – whether that’s new geographic locations or new ‘white space’ opportunities.”

The company is a major exporter. “We started working with the Department of International Trade in 2011,” says Harrison. “The DIT helped us to create an organised and structured strategy to tackle each market one by one. They remain very much part of our lives – they provide good support and our links remain strong.”

Pricecheck currently sells into 83 countries, with export accounting for approximately £45m of total sales. “Markets do vary according to fluctuations in exchange rates but typically our larger markets are Scandinavia, the Netherlands, North America and Australia,” she says. “We are aiming to have 20 countries with £1m+ turnover this year.”

But the company is also taking a fresh approach to its domestic business.  

“We try to do all the normal things really well but also offer enhancements that provide brands with different ways and routes into new markets in order to make us the distributor of choice. We are very service led.”

So Pricecheck’s teams work with their customers to find what Harrison calls ‘white spaces’ – extending the range of products sold by a store or selling items in new places. Fashion stores, for example, might now feature refrigerators filled with drinks, or sell cosmetics and fragrances. Pricecheck’s brand management teams will work with retailers to advise about which brands will sit properly in their stores.

Another major new avenue has been Amazon. Here, Pricecheck acts as a marketing and sales distribution service for brands on the platform, offering everything from webstore design and content to SEO all the way through to pick and pack and distribution. “We can offer a full brand marketing service,” says Harrison. 

“You have to be spot on with your IT systems but we have mastered the art of managing Amazon as a business,” says Harrison. “It is an exciting growth area.”

As the business grows and its services evolve, its skills requirements are changing. “There are people who have been in this business for several decades – not just my brother and myself – and who could perform any job,” she says, “but now it is much more specialist. Five years ago, we had one person in marketing; today we have an army. We are literally a sales and marketing and distribution agency for some brands.”

The company is always recruiting for next year’s growth. That means recruiting plenty of young local graduates. 

“We are blessed locally,” she says, citing Sheffield Hallam’s “excellent” business and technology school along with the universities of Sheffield, Nottingham, Huddersfield, Hull and Leeds. It’s a return on the effort that the company has put into these local universities. “We do guest lectures, we attend careers fairs and open days, we hold site tours for students. Many people apply to work here after working on a project about us at university.” 

“We are aiming to have 20 countries with £1m+ turnover this year.”