Pricecheck is one of the most pioneering wholesalers in the UK. With brother and joint-MD Mark, Debbie Harrison is starting to see the rewards

“We’re different,” asserts Debbie Harrison confidently from the boardroom of Pricecheck’s Sheffield HQ. The conversation is young but Harrison seems keen to highlight the role of her family business within the sector. “We’re still a wholesaler,” she continues. “But we’re redefining what wholesale is.”

It’s a bold claim for a business currently ranked 27th in our Big 30 list of Britain’s biggest wholesalers. But one not without merit. The past 12 months have seen Pricecheck awarded Specialist Wholesaler of the Year at the Grocer Gold Awards, while Harrison personally picked up an OBE for services to international trade, on the back of its pioneering work.

It’s the culmination of over a decade’s work since she became joint-MD in 2008 with brother Mark, with sales growing from £17m to a projected £130m in 2022/23. But Harrison’s Pricecheck journey goes back much further than that. Her parents Moira and Doug started the business in 1978, operating from a small shop in Sheffield before moving to a larger warehouse complex. The extra space provided numerous commercial advantages, and had plus points for children too. “The roller-skating was great. It was so fast,” she laughs,

Back then, the family-run business was a specialist toiletries distributor but since Harrison and her brother took the reins, Pricecheck has expanded into the grocery, vaping, petcare, household and baby categories, now stocking over 8,000 different lines.

pricecheck mark lythe debbie harrison

Pricecheck’s Mark Lythe and Debbie Harrison

The duo have also built up exports, forecasting £40m sales this year – aided by the recruitment of modern languages graduates (who speak 17 languages between them), a move that gives them a huge advantage when negotiating, Harrison says. Exports are “harder than working in the UK,” and it “takes longer”, but the “long-term benefit has been huge”.

“If we’re tackling any new project, it starts with a brief and our business development team thoroughly research the export market from a desk. But once we’ve done that, we go out and visit the place so we really understand the people and the opportunity.”

“It’s important to realise you don’t win on your first meeting. It’s often several meetings before that trust and understanding is built up.”

Its global ambitions could easily have suffered through Brexit and covid, but Pricecheck has emerged through both relatively untarnished. “We grew 5% in 2020 but were gutted because that’s not like us. We then had 12% last year.” This year, Q1 has seen a further 28% surge.

Name: Debbie Harrison

Current job: Pricecheck joint-MD and export champion at Department for International Trade.

Best business decision: Starting our graduate recruitment scheme. Some of our senior team joined us as a placement student many years ago.

Business philosophy: The harder you work, the luckier you get. Adaptability, perseverance, and a bit of Yorkshire grit are key factors.

Favourite hobby: Spending time with horses.

Favourite musical artist: Anything and everything. I saw Adele this summer, and she was incredible!

Best advice received: You can do anything, but you can’t do everything so surround yourself with great people.

Harrison holds little sympathy for anyone bemoaning their fate over recent years. “Businesses can be lazy,” she says. “While everyone was talking about what the Brexit deal was going to be,” Pricecheck was taking action.

In 2020 it established a Belgian subsidiary, designed to minimise new border friction by giving customers the option of doing business with either Pricecheck UK or Pricecheck Belgium.

Meanwhile, closer to home the siblings have sought to build out Pricecheck’s offering with a full range of client services such as brand distribution, export and marketing. Last year, it took another major step with the launch of a new service on Amazon that gives suppliers the opportunity to sell their products directly through the online giant’s grocery arm.

“Lots of wholesalers were terrified of Amazon when they moved into grocery, but we set ourselves up as a service to harness the opportunity,” Harrison says. “If we couldn’t beat them, we needed to get on board.”

Debbie Harrison, joint-MD with Mark Lythe Pricecheck

Debbie Harrison, joint-MD with Mark Lythe Pricecheck

At first, many suppliers were interested but simply couldn’t afford the expertise required to tackle it seriously, she says. Pricecheck therefore took the decision to employ a dedicated team of brand managers, marketers, SEO experts and pickers to help support the brands and fulfil their orders. “They design their website but orders are sent directly to us and we pick, pack and dispatch,” Harrison says.

The many services are part of Pricecheck’s effort to “redefine wholesale”, but as Harrison admits: “We have so many services some people can be put off.”

Fortunately, the appointment of Darren Goldney, ex-Unitas MD, as commercial director in April 2021 has helped to articulate its message in a clearer way.

One of Goldney’s first moves was to implement a supplier menu to make it easier for businesses to see exactly what Pricecheck can do, and which of its services they want to use. “You can pick as many options from the menu as you like,” Harrison says. “For example, you might want to export to the rest of the world but not Europe and they can choose that.”

Goldney has also upskilled the now 50-strong sales team through the creation of a new brand academy, a move that ensures consistency and exceptional brand knowledge. “Our team can now present a brand that we distribute to the same standard as the brand themselves,” she says. Brand distribution is expected to contribute towards 50% of growth over the next four years.


Pricecheck is also notably differentiated in the male-dominated world of wholesale for the number of women it employs, 42% of the workforce to be precise, including 28% in the warehouse. “We’ve got loads of girls who drive the forklifts,” says Harrison. “It changes the culture totally, in a positive way.” At board level too the 12-strong senior leadership team contains four women.

Not that she deliberately tried to balance the workforce through quotas or targets. “We’re not sexist, but we’re not ageist either. We just recruit the right people .”

There has, though, been a more intentional effort to find younger recruits, taking on an average 10 placement students every year, many of whom end up coming back to work for Pricecheck when they graduate.

“Initially, many students don’t know very much about wholesale, they’re just desperate to get a placement. But they come here and fall in love with it.”

And if that’s not redefining wholesale, it’s hard to know what is.