Taking Store Design To The Next Level – A Trip To Ukraine

By Steve Wynne-Jones
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  • Nina Mishchenko explores the transformation of supermarket design in Ukraine, examining how the approach has evolved under the influence of retailer Silpo. This article appeared in ESM's November/December 2023 edition.

    Imagine walking into a supermarket and seeing art objects and illustrations on the walls in the form of various helicopters and flying machines, as they were imagined in the 1920s. A huge retrofuturistic helicopter hangs over the produce section.

    Here you are greeted by science fiction and imagined technologies, as the future meets supernatural intelligence and unusual objects. This is not just a place to buy groceries, but a centre where people can relax, absorb positive emotions, and feel comfortable. You will leave the supermarket feeling like you have entered another world – a world where anything is possible, where science and fantasy meet, where the future meets the past.

    The design is one of the creative themes that the Ukrainian chain Silpo has developed for its supermarkets. For the seventh year in a row, a number of the retailer’s cutting-edge store designs have been included in ESM’s Europe’s Finest store selection – in 2023, one of the best was the supermarket in Boryspil, which the Silpo team called ‘Helicopters in Retrofuturism’ (pictured). The supermarket is located in a small town near the airport of the same name, near the Ukrainian capital. 

    “This is Boryspil – the main airport of Kyiv and all of Ukraine,” says Kateryna Oguryaeva, marketing director at Silpo, “a city that has always been associated with airplanes, travel, and the anticipation of adventure and new experiences.”


    The Silpo team decided to fantasise and find examples of how people imagined their future 100 years ago. 

    “We decided to play on the theme of helicopters and flying machines invented in the past,” says Oguryaeva, “and how they would look if the ideas of those people came true. Here, the future is mixed with the past. Possible and impossible futures meet with supernatural intelligence and unusual objects – retrofuturism in action.”

    The supermarket began to be designed and received its designer outfit even before the start of the invasion. The opening was scheduled for May 2022, but the full-scale invasion by Russia prevented it. However, the brave team at Silpo have continued to open supermarkets during the war. The Boryspil supermarket opened in December 2022, during widespread power outages across Ukraine.

    Read More: Top 20 Supermarket Retailers In Ukraine


    Telling A Story

    Silpo is the most exciting supermarket chain in Ukraine. Each store has a new, interesting thematic concept and story. The first such store was a supermarket in the pop-art style, which opened in November 2014, in Kyiv. The experiment was successful, and in 2015 it continued, with other new stores. 

    Since 2019, every new Silpo has an individual design, and the chain also updates the design and concepts of previously opened stores. Currently, the chain has over 100 designer supermarkets. Even the staff rooms at Silpo are in the style of the entire store’s design, so that employees can also soak up the unique atmosphere and relax during breaks.

    Silpo is also one of the largest supermarket chains in Ukraine – as of 1 October 2023, the chain had 311 stores. In the first months of the full-scale invasion, more than 30 Silpo supermarkets – in Kyiv and the Kyiv region, Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Sumy – suspended operations, but have since resumed. Another 31 supermarkets suffered partial or complete destruction, 17 of which were restored. Since the start of the full-scale invasion, the chain has opened 16 new stores.

    “Even during the war, we did not abandon our unique designs, because it is in our DNA,” says Oguryaeva.


    “Of course, we slightly reduced the budgets for art objects, but our mission is to bring joy to guests, and no enemy has the right to change that.”

    There are a myriad of quirky examples, all of which can be seen on the retailer’s website. For example, in October, the chain opened a store dedicated to the culture of ‘goblincore’ – an aesthetic that celebrates the beauty of nature. Here, moss grows on the trunks of trees, colourful mushrooms rise above the rows of delicacies, and snails advise shoppers to slow down, enjoy the moment, savour the aroma of pastries, and take in the beauty of forest flora and fauna. 

    Elsewhere, in the summer of 2022, following the advent of war, a supermarket in the style of the universe of the famous video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 opened – a joint creation of two brands with Ukrainian roots: Silpo and GSC Game World.

    In the outlet, the team sought to recreate the game, right down to the smallest detail. The walls of the inner perimeter are stylised as abandoned industrial buildings from the game’s Dark Valley – with broken windows, warning signs, damaged warehouse doors, and an air duct. All signs for navigating the store are stylised as different locations in the game – for example, in the meat department, the sign is a fuel tank with an imitation of fire. The coffee boutique at the entrance is decorated as Sidorovich’s bunker, an in-game feature, and the seafood department hints at the Laboratory.


    Silpo is also proud of its cultural collaboration with representatives from other countries. A Silpo outlet in the style of Sri Lanka was created in partnership with the country’s embassy, ​​which not only provided an increased offer of Sri Lankan products, but also authentic decorative elements. 

    According to Oguryaeva, this is a successful example of cultural diplomacy. Tuk-tuks, wooden columns with medallions, masks brought from Sri Lanka, dynamic installations and art objects with leopards, elephants and peacocks, a tea-tasting area, and, finally, a QR tour of one of the most picturesque islands in the world were added to the decor.

    How The Designs Are Created

    Creating designer supermarkets for Silpo is a complex and multilevel process that requires professionalism, creativity, and love for the job from the team. The entire preparation process takes about six months.

    In the first stage, the design arm of the marketing department develops the idea-concept of the style of the future supermarket. For this, references and visualisations of details are selected. These references contain options for interiors, pictures, related stories, examples of art objects, and examples of possible textures and colours, to help determine the main idea behind the design and its details. They also take into account the requirements for the safety and functionality of the supermarket.

    In parallel with the development of the theme, the development of the floor plan takes place. Teams from other Silpo divisions are involved in this process. This is necessary to ensure that the store has the required assortment, layout, and equipment.

    Design Project Development

    In the second stage, when there is a well-developed and agreed floor plan, the design project is developed and applied to the plan. The design project is developed by the design department, together with an architect-designer. At this stage, colleagues from the Lavka Traditsii, Own Confectionery and Resto department teams are involved in the process, to organically fit their styles into the design concept.

    The architect-designer creates 3D visualisations of the design project, taking into account the floor plan of the store, the specifics of its location, and the fire safety requirements. These 3D visualisations allow the teams involved to see the design of the supermarket at full scale and assess its convenience and attractiveness. 

    Typically, the design project is ready in 40 to 50 days. After that, the construction department joins the process. The store is then ready in about three to four months.

    Why Create Emotions?

    B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore – in their book, The Experience Economy – argue that the modern economy has moved from a ‘goods and services’ one to that of an ‘experience’ economy. In this new economic model, businesses create unforgettable experiences for their customers, for which they are willing to pay. 

    Modern consumers are looking for more. They need emotions and experiences for which they will come back. Silpo approaches the issue comprehensively – in fact, in the updated edition of The Experience Economy, released in 2021, Silpo is mentioned.

    Rule #1: Create An Engaging Atmosphere

    Designer supermarkets are an implementation of rule number one in the ‘experience economy’: create an engaging atmosphere. This can be done by using design, music, aroma, or other sensory stimuli, as Pine writes in The Experience Economy. 

    In addition to a thematic style, Silpo supermarkets have additional zones on the trading floor. For example, there are food halls – gastronomic spaces with professional open kitchens with a high level of service, led by brand chef Marco Cervetti. Each establishment in the food hall territory has its concept, menu and team. There’s also the Lavka Traditsii zone, featuring products from local farmers and small producers, several mini-cheese factories, ‘FEELtrd’ coffee shops, with freshly roasted coffee beans, zones where meat or fish is smoked directly on the trading floor, and areas where handmade candies and sweets are sold. 

    The concepts also feature atypical zones – for example, in the Brazilian-themed store there is a meditation room and a Beermaster pub, with a craft brewery and a design inspired by the National Library of Brazil.

    Rule #2:  Allow Your Customers To Participate

    Customer participation can involve the opportunity to interact with a product or service, or by involving customers in the creative process. At Silpo, there are many different examples. For example, the receipts that guests – as they are called by the retailer – receive contain funny predictions that are often shared on social media.  

    In addition, Silpo organises many events in its stores – festivals, tastings, galleries, excursions, and pop-up performances. In some stores, there are culinary spaces where lectures and masterclasses are held.

    Rule #3: Offer Your Customers Emotional Value

    This can be done through humour, storytelling, or other ways of connecting with customers. The Silpo team has turned the simple process of delivery into a separate theatrical performance, with the courier joking around as he or she hands over packages, wearing funny costumes and riding quirky vehicles. 

    In store, ‘Silpo Radio’ plays on the trading floors, with a hit parade of young Ukrainian performers. In early autumn, the Lavka Traditsii project, together with designers, changed the packaging of its products and added paintings by famous Ukrainian artists. 

    Elsewhere, with the permanent exhibitions of art museums closed due to the war and many works evacuated, the team has brought Ukrainian paintings directly to the shelves of Silpo supermarkets, to tell customers a little more about the artists. 

    Creating An Experience

    The willingness to offer emotional value is what distinguishes Silpo from other chains, says Oguryaeva. “For our guests, we strive to become not just a place of purchases, but a place of joy, emotions, and gastronomic discoveries,” she says, “while, at the same time, following one of the most important principles: to create an experience that guests will want to return to.”

    One of the most moving examples of such emotional value is the replacement of the sign adorning the Silpo outlet in Kherson. During the temporary occupation of the city, the enemy defiled the decoration of the store and recently damaged its facade with rockets. Instead of the brand name, the word ‘Vistoïmo’ (‘We Will Stand’) hangs above the entrance. This is a message to both Kherson and all of Ukraine.

    In the autumn, Silpo launched an informational campaign, ‘We Want to Sell Veteran Products,’ to promote businesses operated by war veterans, and to make their products recognisable and popular among consumers. All interested food entrepreneurs who fell under this criteria, or members of their families – while the veteran has gone back to defend Ukraine on the front – as well as the families of fallen warriors, were invited to collaborate with Lavka Traditsii at Silpo, as suppliers of craft products. 

    The Ministry of Veterans’ Affairs of Ukraine, in turn, provided the opportunity to label these products with a graphic image, ‘Created by Defenders.’

    Silpo’s approach to creating emotional value is unique and successful. By offering engaging atmospheres, opportunities for participation and emotional value, Silpo creates a memorable shopping experience that keeps customers coming back for more. 

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