Cornwall LivingIssue #90

Celebrating a centenary

Trevails celebrates 100 years of successful high street trading in the city of Truro, but what’s its secret?

Staking his future on the retail trade, Cornish born Royston John Trevail returned from the Great War with a vision. In the early part of the 20th century, with advances in the manufacturing industry and the beginnings of mass-production, clothing was evolving into an accessible, affordable and desirable consumer commodity. It was no longer just for the established gentry. Fashion was being democratised for the ordinary working man and woman.

face-to-face service that my father and grandfather instilled in me has been the key to our success these past 100 years”

Royston’s first shop opened at number nine River Street, Truro in 1919. But RJ Trevail didn’t just expect the customers to walk through the door. He had the foresight to realise that in a rural county like Cornwall, you have to sometimes take the product to the people. A century before online shopping and home delivery, RJ Trevail would do a ‘country round’ on his motorcycle and sidecar, taking a selection of clothing out to his customers, and returning in a week to either pick up the garments or take payment. 

This kind of personal service is what has made Trevails stand out in an often-volatile retail industry. Indeed, Geoffrey Trevail, Royston’s son and successor once said: “If your staff are as passionate about what they do as you are, and your customers are well looked after, they will return again and again.”

Today, the business is managed by Olly Trevail, Geoffrey’s grandson and the great grandson of RJ Trevail. Olly started on the shop floor at 16 years old and is more than just a custodian of a family business. He’s created a sustainable operation that is standing up to the modern-day challenges of high street retail. “I was lucky enough to work with both my grandfather and my father,” Olly tells us. “From them I learned that keeping customers happy is the most important thing. Far too often on the high street, the customer is made to feel invisible. Some stores have great products but there’s no welcome, no ‘hello’. The secret of creating a great shopping experience seems to have been forgotten. But with the rise of online retail, the high street simply can’t afford to neglect the customers. I believe passionately that our high streets are an integral part of our society – after all we are a ‘nation of shopkeepers’.  The belief in personal, face-to-face service that my father and grandfather instilled in me has been the key to our success these past 100 years.”

Trevails has survived the Great Depression of the late 20s and 30s, a World War, the rapid takeover of the fast fashion industry in the 1960s, further recessions, the rise of the information age, and its biggest threat to date – the internet. This is because Trevails is first and foremost a people-centred business. 

The store now stands at 31-32 River Street and employs 20 staff. It continues to attract customers of all ages and its gift is in not only showcasing quality womens and menswear, but in its collection of dynamic, fashionable brands that attract a new generation of customers. From Gant, Barbour and Brook Taverner to Tommy Hilfiger, Brax and Scotch & Soda, it’s this diverse mix of styles that provides customers with a choice that you can’t find anywhere else on the Cornish high street.  

From all generations, and from all walks of life, what draws people to Trevails is its ability to make everyone welcome. It bypasses the transactional boundary and retail disconnect that customers can often experience via the internet and instead provides a place where you can touch, try on, visualise and receive expert advice. Put simply, it’s all about trust, honesty and respect: values that are as relevant today as they were 100 years ago.



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"face-to-face service that my father and grandfather instilled in me has been the key to our success these past 100 years"