Meet Our In-Store Experts
Szabi Bandli and Magda Nikitczuk
As well as being long-term partners outside of work, both Magda and Szabi do a brilliant job managing our stores in Kingston and Islington respectively. Experienced outdoor experts with a lifelong passion for the outdoors, we chatted to them about their shared adventures, their experiences of moving to and working in the UK, and the satisfaction they get from helping customers find the right kit for their own adventures.
Have you always been outdoorsy?
Szabi: Yes, since I was a kid. I was in a Scout group back in Hungary and we would be out nearly every weekend, at first only somewhere local but as I got older we had the chance to get involved in bigger kinds of adventures. Also, my godfather is a hunter, so he took me to the forest and showed me nature quite early.
Magda: Yes. Living in London for about 15 years, it makes you look for somewhere to escape to heal your soul a little bit.
What gets you outdoors?
Szabi: For me, anything outdoorsy, whether that's an afternoon’s walk on the hills, a good long trail run, a multi-day hike or an expedition. Scrambling in the Lake District, climbing in the Peak District, adventuring in Scotland - I love being outdoors.
Magda: We love to go to remote places to hike, wild camp, climb and run. Wild camping in remote areas, where there’s no sign of people it’s just you and wild animals, gives you a sense of freedom you don’t get in the city. You can see and hear nature rather than the cars and big city noise.
How would you describe your relationship with the outdoors?
Magda: We are good friends now. We made so many mistakes at the beginning; we underestimated the weather conditions, and then you cannot find yourself in nature. But with time, the relationship grows, and your start to understand nature. I think the exhaustion you feel after physical activity in a beautiful place, far away from the city, helps keep your mind calm. Whether you’re hiking, wild camping or running, it takes you to that same place.
Szabi: The outdoors is my mental sanctuary, it's where I get away from the everyday noise of the city and everyday problems. I feel mentally healthier when I’m outdoors.
How is it going on adventures with each other?
Magda: It’s been quite interesting. At the beginning, it was very challenging planning trips, as I didn’t expect the level of stress Szabi was going to put me through! But I started loving it, adapting and understanding what it was all about. And after each trip, the calmness we get, and the amazing memories, just makes us plan more and more adventurous trips. I think if you can share that passion with someone else, it is amazing. Sharing passion, memories and knowledge brings people closer. It puts a smile on my face. To be able to laugh about it afterwards with someone by your side, it’s important.
Szabi: Magda and I have quite a unique relationship, because it’s very hard to find someone with exactly the same interests and who enjoys what you enjoy. Going on these adventures together and sharing these moments makes me very happy.
How did it feel experiencing the outdoors in the UK for the first time?
Szabi: The first time I went to Scotland was a shock to me. I’d seen it before in pictures - it was pretty amazing - but when I was there it was totally different. It was unbelievable compared with other places I’d been before. The big sense of wildness, open space, it was just… it was amazing.
Magda: Oh, the first trip definitely affected the next couple of years of hiking. It was an absolutely beautiful and unexpected experience. I’m from the seaside, so it was very different to what I was used to and I just fell in love with the Scottish Highlands and mountains.
Why is it important to push yourself and go on these adventures?
Magda: I think a sense of achievement possibly? My theory is that we, as humans, do not work as hard as we used to do, so these type of activities take you back to a more natural part of your life. That’s why exhaustion feels so good.
Szabi: For me, getting outdoors is about bringing balance back to your life, connecting with nature, and putting everything in the right place. When you have a hard day or lots of problems, getting outdoors helps you see things in a different light.
What brought you to the UK and to working with Cotswold Outdoor?
Szabi: Originally, I only came for six months, and after 15 years I’m still here! I think when you get in a kind of rhythm, it’s a different life here with better possibilities. You can explore more and there’s lots of places to visit.
I joined Cotswold Outdoor four years ago. For me, connecting with other people who like the outdoors, helping them get outdoors and sharing stories makes it a great place to work. When you work in an environment you like, you get so much satisfaction. You’re not doing the job because you have to do, you’re doing your job because you enjoy it.
Magda: Well, it wasn’t related to the outdoors, I just wanted to come here for a year, just one year, and it’s now been almost 15! But I fell in love with the Scottish Highlands and mountains. I wasn’t actually looking for a job, the job found me. But the reason I love working for Cotswold Outdoor is the passion you can share with the customers. It’s like-minded people meeting in one place, who can share all that experience, plan trips, and help people reach their goals. You want to make sure that whoever goes outdoors, they get the right equipment and will enjoy their trip. So often, you’re building friendships for life with these customers.
What does it mean to you to be able to share your passion with customers?
Szabi: For me it’s very exciting because when you share your stories and give new ideas to customers – where to go, where to explore - you also get new ideas from them because they love to share their side of the story, and you can come up with new places to explore. Some of the customers will come back if they are going on bigger expeditions and we’ve helped them to prepare. They share stories and pictures with us. It’s good because it means you made a personal connection with that person, and they trusted you.
Magda: If there is something you feel passionate about, you want to give this to other people. You want to make sure they will enjoy it as well. It’s a good feeling when you have someone returning to the store, often just to share their happiness and experience and give you the feeling you did a good job.
Why is it important to speak to an expert in-store?
Magda: Just to get the right advice and not make a mistake. It’s important to speak with someone who has been there and done stuff, and has experience in the outdoors. I think having the right knowledge and being able to share that with people is important for safety and people's enjoyment. You’re taking responsibility for people in a way and whether they’re going to enjoy their trip or not rests a little bit with you.
Szabi: These days there are so many different products on the market, if you start to do your own research, after a while you are going to get lost. If a customer comes into the store, we can show them the right product, explain how it works and its intended use. It means they go away with the right tent, the right stove, or the right pair of boots to suit their specific adventures.
Having that expertise helps us to find the right product for the customer to get out there in the safest, most comfortable, and most enjoyable way. I think finding the right gear for an adventure is very important because if you don’t have the right kind of products with you, it’s going to be very uncomfortable and you’re going to get disconnected from the outdoors. At the end of the day you’re not going to enjoy your trip as much as you could.
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