FMCG wholesaler rises from the flood to take on international stage

Sheffield-based Pricecheck is an international brand wholesaler and distributor of fast moving consumer goods. It is also a glowing example of the resilience and flexibility that are the hallmark of family businesses.

Established in 1978, it is a second-generation owned business, founded by the parents of Mark Lythe and Debbie Harrison, who now run the company as joint managing directors.

Today the business is flourishing, with a 200-strong workforce and turnover which hit £82m last year. The company is on track to grow that to £200m by 2025.

However, back in 2007, just months before the brother and sister duo took control, things looked very different.

Devastating floods that hit the city saw its premises swamped and under 6ft of water.

The business could have gone under, but with determination and creativity it pulled through. Brother and sister were also handed the reins by their parents during the clean-up.

The floods also acted as a “huge catalyst for change”, says Lythe. He adds: “It gave us a clean slate and an opportunity to evaluate things. We decided we had to grow the business and set about creating a strategy to do that.

“Our decision was that it would be led by exporting. We saw export sales as a big growth potential for the business.”

As a result Pricecheck has expanded its services to more than 80 countries. Overseas sales now account for £37m of its current turnover.

The ability to change and adapt has shown itself before. The business actually started life as a small retail business in Sheffield’s suburbs.

Lythe, 51, says that for him the succession process was a “long transition”. He adds: “I was in the business for 21 years before we officially took over.

“Both of us grew up with the business, sticking price tags on items at weekend and in the school holidays.”

He adds: “We have got a really fantastic management team around us. Family businesses are great but you need some outside influence in there as well.

“When you start growing you have to be able to relinquish some of the control and trust people who are not part of the family. If you are not willing to do that you are not going to get the scale in the business.

“By delegating responsibility you can create a management team with other skills. I like to thinks that we maintain the same family business values we have always had, even though the company is a lot bigger.”

And he adds: “What sets a family business apart is having that long term view of the future.”