ATLANTA — Shannon and Anton Kotze are continuing the legacy of one of Atlanta’s favorite retailers — The Bilt-House.
The husband-and-wife team bought the company, which consisted of three lifestyle boutiques, in July 2012 from Jan Bilthouse who opened her retail operation more than 20 years ago. They closed the store in Serenbe, a community on the outskirts of Atlanta, and kept the ones in Buckhead and nearby Roswell. Last year they opened a second store in Buckhead, which is their main one. Then, in late June, they opened a temporary store in nearby Brookhaven, and recently opened their fourth permanent store in the new Westside shopping center in the Howell Mill area.
“The stores are doing well, and we’re expanding in areas where we can grow,” said Shannon Kotze, owner, president and buyer. (Anton, formerly in commercial real estate, is owner and chief executive officer.) “Customers are asking us to open more stores in their areas, but we don’t want to dilute our brand.”
The Kotzes have kept the whimsical nature of The Bilt-House, known for its decorative art like flying pigs, roosters, goats, bird cages, and reclaimed wood art with witty sayings. Apparel and accessories are prominently displayed in large windows, and Kotze still hangs clothes outside, as Jan Bilthouse did. “It helps bring customers in,” said Kotze.
The stores, which vary from 1,000 to 2,500 square feet, are in houses, except for the Brookhaven and Howell Mill units. Kotze said that, when they took possession of the brick and stone house that serves as the new Buckhead store, several layers of linoleum covered the now-exposed wood floors. The store includes a kitchen with a table and chairs, dishes, and other kitchen paraphernalia, as well as a small room with gift items for babies, including stuffed animals.
“We sell everything here, except for makeup,” Kotze said. “Art, furniture, home goods, apparel, toys, jewelry, boots and shoes. Everything is for sale.”
Apparel brands include Johnny Was, Bailey 44, John & Jenn, Charlotte Tarantola, Karen Kane, Donna Morgan, and Minnie Rose; jewelry by Love Heals, and boots by Old Gringo. The boots, which have their own room upstairs in the new Buckhead store, are high-end and popular, Kotze said.
“We have primarily bohemian, but also traditional and some contemporary brands,” Kotze said. “We add new lines all the time.”
Jan Bilthouse stayed with the Kotzes for a year, showing them the ropes and helping with the buying. “She taught us everything about the business,” said Kotze, who does her buying at the five Atlanta Apparel Market shows and goes to New York and MAGIC once or twice a year. She also shops the Atlanta Gift Market.
With cool fall weather encouraging women to shop, Kotze is reordering key items, which include fringe handbags, vests, heavy coats, and leather pieces. But she was reordering fall back in August, too. “It was 90 degrees outside, but we were selling winter coats and cashmere sweaters,” she said. “We’ve had an excellent fall so far, and fall weather has only just begun.”
Kotze said total sales are up this year over 2013. “If we weren’t doing well, we wouldn’t be opening new stores.”