“SMEs are the backbone of UK business.”

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“SMEs are the backbone of UK business.”

Debbie Harrison is the joint managing director of wholesale company Pricecheck, which has grown from a small family business 40 years ago to a business employing 300 people and with a turnover of £100m. As well an Entrepreneur in Residence, Debbie is a member of the Department of Management Advisory Board. She advises on the Small Business Leadership Programme. 

How would you describe your leadership style? 

I like to lead by example. I’d never ask anyone to do a job that I haven’t done or wouldn’t be willing to do. I also believe in being as open and honest with my team as possible, so everyone is working towards a common goal. 

How important is it to you that you’re a family business?  

Family values are at the core of Pricecheck, and that’s something I’m incredibly proud of. We employ families including couples, children and cousins, and I believe it helps us have a real team ethos – that willingness to go the extra mile for each other.

How do you maintain operational efficiency?  

We’ve experienced exponential growth in the past five years – growing our team from 80 to 300 and turnover from £40m to £100m. We believe our efficiency comes from the core team of people who have stayed and grown with Pricecheck.  

But we realise that to hit our target of £200m turnover by 2025, we also need the support of technology, so we’ve recently invested in a state-of-the-art warehouse management system. Industry peers have always been amazed we’ve been able to grow as we have without one – a great testament to the team!  

How has Covid-19 affected how you do business at Pricecheck?  

We had to quite quickly change how we did business – from restructuring teams, priorities and the office layout to video conferencing.  

We even launched our own virtual trade show! We redesigned our showroom to mimic a trade show layout, and displayed all 6,000 of our products to our international customers from the comfort of their homes. It was a busy month and generated the same level of turnover as the trade fairs we usually visit.  

How do you maintain productivity? 

Reward and recognition are important. This year we launched an internal awards scheme for our staff, and we also have a profit-related bonus scheme which certainly helps motivate individuals to hit their targets each quarter.  

How important do you think resilience is to a business? 

We’ve been trading for 42 years and we’ve faced quite a few challenges in those years! From cash flow in the early days to floods, departures of key senior staff and, more recently, the pandemic. 

But being a family business, you’ve no choice other than to make it work. So yes, there can be a lot of stress and worry, long hours and difficult conversations – but that brings inspiration and motivation. It’s why we make sure to celebrate the good and communicate the bad – because our team of directors lead from the front, our department heads follow suit, and then so do their teams.

What made you want to work on the Small Business Leadership Programme?

Every company was once an SME – they are the backbone of UK business. We received a lot of support in our early days, so we’re passionate about giving something back. You’re never too experienced or senior to learn something new and working with SMEs can often make you review your own practices.  

What advice would you give to a small business starting out now? 

Be bold. Resilience, flexibility and a bit of grit is required to navigate a challenging marketplace.  

Lead by example. And always recruit the best candidates you can afford. Bringing in experience and talent can not only help to grow your business but challenge you to be better too – and quite frankly, you can’t be the expert in everything.

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