Two Experts' Cotswold Outdoor Journey
Belfast store experts Leslie and Phil tell us why they love working for Cotswold Outdoor.
Can you talk us through how the walking group came about?
"Our walking group came about because Phil and I had decided we were going to do the Everest Base Camp trek. Part of that meant we really wanted to enjoy it, so we made sure that we were fit before we went. We began walking ourselves and then a couple of people asked if they could come along. They had a good time, we had a good time and they then told other members of Cotswold staff, friends, family who we added to a little WhatsApp group.
Not everybody can always get out together, but we go out with a date and we might get 5,6, 7 people who can come along because the stores need to be manned as well, and we end up walking, having a bit of banter, we share photographs on the hill as well and we usually end up in the pub for a few beers afterwards and a bit of craic."
Why do you think it’s important to walk together?
"Since I started working with Cotswold Outdoor, what I found is that every single member of the team has the same passion, which is the great outdoors. So, when someone suggests something, it’s very easy for us all to say ‘that’s a great idea’ because we’re all coming from the same place. That to me means that when we start walking, we get anyone from Molly who’s 20 to me and Phil who are in our 50s and 60s, so we have a whole range of ages which is absolutely fantastic for us, since we behave like 20-year olds anyway! What does age matter anyway? It’s great, it’s a good craic."
What do you think it is about Cotswold Outdoor and the people who work there that creates that kind of inclusive environment?
"For me, it seems that everyone, because of that passion for the outdoors, when we’re advising customers, we’re telling them about the mistakes we’ve made and we’re helping them avoid it. When you do that and the customer comes back happy, we have a customer for life. And I think that’s something we often forget."
What makes Cotswold Outdoor different?
"I think one of the really great practises that Cotswold Outdoor have is that they will only recruit people with outdoor experience. For me, it would be a tremendous mistake to recruit somebody who doesn’t have outdoor experience, because customers come in looking for kit for the outdoors, therefore we a can guide them and help them to make the right choice.
For example, in the Belfast City store, we have people who have travelled all over the world. Phil and I have just been to Nepal, Phil is a great skier, Miriam has climbed Aconcagua – all of these members of staff have a vast amount of knowledge about the outdoors. All a customer has to do is come in and ask and if I don’t know the answer, I can pass them on to the person that does."
Why is it important to you to be able to share that passion with your customers?
"It’s important for me to share that with customers because everyone should have a pride in the business that they’re working with. And I certainly have pride in working for Cotswold Outdoor. For me, when a customer comes in, my first and foremost thought is making sure that they go out with the kit that’s going to do the job for them. Not for me, for them. And through that we’ve now built up a network of customers who are coming back and buying more. The only way we’ll do that is by building trust, being genuine and providing good, proper, solid advice."
Why is having the right kit so important?
"There are probably two main reasons that I would stick to. Firstly, if something happens, you have an accident, it could well take Mountain Rescue 3 to 6 hours to find you and get out there to give you a hand. So if your gear is not protecting you from any of the conditions that the outdoors can bring, it could certainly make that situation and awful lot worse or serious. The second reason is, if you’re dry, comfortable with a good pair of boots, you’ll enjoy it. You’ll enjoy it so much more."
How would you describe your relationship with the outdoors and how has it changed over the time that you’ve worked with Cotswold Outdoor?
"I would say the main thing when it comes to my connection with the outdoors is mental health. I came to Cotswold because I’m of the opinion that if I can’t be outdoors, I can talk to people about the outdoors. Even just talking to people about the outdoors makes me feel I’m breathing a bit better. You go up into the hills and it’s like you’re flushing out all of the nonsense of everyday rubbish.
Being a part of Cotswold Outdoor has been great because I meet people like Leslie, there’s a synergy. I went into work and said to Leslie, “let’s go to Nepal”! And most people, if you said that in your place of work, would be wondering if you’re mad. But I knew there would be people here who would go through hell and high water to be able to do that. And it’s made a big change in my life in the sense that I’ve done things for the first time because I’ve got likeminded people with me."
Why is it not just important for you to walk with others, but for the whole walking group?
"Because we are such a universal group, we all learn from each other. A lot of places you go, you see young people and the older people think “I’m older and know these things and these kids don’t know anything”. But you know what? Some of the young people who are out with us have packed so much into their lifespan so far and they’re just going to go further and further. You just think, “I wish I’d had those opportunities when I was that age”. You think how lucky they are and it’s good to get their fresh look on the outdoors. But equally, they’ve got a wee bit to learn from us as well. Even if it’s just life lessons, we offer advice on anything – it comes up in conversation when we’re walking and it’s not forced, you just walking along talking about anything and everything to each other."
How does your experience of the outdoors at work and at play differ and also inform each other?
"Just like everybody going on a big trip, you investigate everything. You might be wondering what sort of boots would be right or what kit, and by trying them out you find out what’s right for you. So we’ve got that outdoor experience, we’ve got a great opportunity to see new kit and understand how it works – obviously kit changes all the time, it gets better and lighter.
One of the great things about Cotswold Outdoor is that we get some of the brands coming in to show us their kit. Not just coming to the shop and telling us about it but taking us out into the hill to show us how it works. When you see kit in the place that it’s meant to be, it makes a big difference to just seeing it and that makes you think ‘I would really like that bit of kit!’."
What brought you to work for Cotswold Outdoor?
"When I left banking I was, for want of a better word, spending my time doing nothing. People would say “you’ve got this time off, you can go out and spend more time outdoors”, and that’s all very well, but when your friends are still busy, you can’t get outdoors with them. So, if I couldn’t be outdoors, I wanted to talk about it. When I applied for a job at Cotswold Outdoor, it was purely just to get me out of the house, but it really invigorated me and it really lit a passion in me for the outdoors again. It really pushed me to be outdoorsy again, whereas previously I’d just done this, done that, whereas now I’m actually thinking about big trips, like Patagonia. My wife doesn’t know I’m going yet though!"
What is your favourite thing about being outdoors?
"It just makes you feel that you’re alive, you’re not just somebody crunching their way to work or whatever. From the top of the Mournes you can Scotland or the Isle of Man and in your mind’s eye, you can always see that little bit further, and that always makes you want to go that little further.
One of the things about living in Northern Ireland is the 40 shades of green that everybody’s heard about. The reason that happens is because we have such varied weather. We have lots and lots of rain, and the odd bit of sunshine, so you have to be prepared for both because you will get both on a day out. Very rarely you’ll go out and not need your raincoat, but equally also you’ll probably need your sunglasses as well! I do love all weather, purely because it gives you different things."
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