One of DIY cable network’s most-viewed reality television shows, “Salvage Dawgs,” chronicled the business transactions of an architectural salvage store called Black Dog Salvage. From November 2012, viewers witnessed how store owners, Mike Whiteside and Robert Kulp, went to soon-to-be-demolished buildings and salvaged all valuable architectural vintage items they could find inside. They were gearing up for the 12th season, but that was put on hold in early 2020 as a result of restrictions imposed because of the Covid-19 pandemic; the DIY network later announced that they aired the final episode and the show would no longer be back on TV.

How it all started – Black Dog Salvage – The Business

It all began when two people, Mike Whiteside and Robert Kulp, saw beauty and profit in objects that were often regarded as landfill-destined trash in Roanoke, Virginia. They subsequently built one of the leading architectural salvage operations in the country with three goals in mind: to restore, repurpose, and resell.

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Their first project – 1892 historic private home

Back in 1999, Mike was planning to build a garage, and asked his friend and contractor Robert, his opinion about it. Their conversation turned into a discussion of how it was unfortunate that a certain historical landmark in their local community was about to be demolished. It was a known historic private home located on Highland Avenue, with stained-glass windows, stable columns, original doors, and a fireplace surrounded by ceramic tiles with illustrations of a reclining woman and cherubs. It was built by one of Roanoke’s railroad pioneers in 1892. The next thing they knew, they’d purchased its salvage rights, and so took every piece of the exquisite architectural details that they could find during three weeks. At that time, they both claimed that they didn’t really know what they were doing, but made sure to get all salvageable items using several tools, a forklift, and a truck.

Officially opened for business

Encouraged by the turnout of their first salvage project, Mike took their idea to another level, and rented a warehouse on Franklin Road. With Robert, his new business partner, who was keen on details, Mike immediately welcomed their first client just moments after placing an old vinyl signboard with the word ‘SALVAGE’ written on it outside the building. The store name, Black Dog Salvage, was suggested by Mike’s wife, Susie, since the Black Labrador named Molly was always with Mike wherever he went.

The tiles that they’d carefully removed from the private home were sold for $3000, so it didn’t take long for the business partners to upgrade to a bigger location – their store needed a much larger space to accommodate more items, and they bought a 44,000-square-foot warehouse close to the Historic Grandin Village. Neither could quite believe that what started as a messy storage area of salvaged items turned into an interior design showroom filled with salvaged furniture, which they customized and recycled.

In 2004, they reorganized the business and moved it to the Memorial Bridge on 13th Street, and expanded the store by allowing other vendors who specialized in antiques, collectibles, and other custom artworks to sell their wares in one of the wings inside the store; they called it the Memorial Bridge marketplace.

However, Robert and Mike didn’t just accept anything. Items needed to pass strict quality control, and should have some sort of historical significance. Between the two owners, Robert was stricter as he had this policy of not saying no to anything he hadn’t seen yet. The business had problems during the 2007 recession in the US, so Robert was careful selecting salvageable items, as they needed to make a profit to keep the business afloat.

From a BDS warehouse to a reality-TV show, “Salvage Dawgs”

Executive producer Bill Hayes, with his operations manager Ted Ayers, met Mike through a common friend, Ned Hooper, a local orthopedic surgeon.

They had become fishing buddies, and during their fishing expeditions, Dr. Hooper would badger Bill into making a TV show about ragged salvage dogs; the good doctor believed that Black Dog Salvage was an interesting topic for documentaries. In 2012, Bill gave it a try and took some footage of the BDS crew salvaging architectural pieces in a project they took on in South Boston. After watching the tape, Bill knew that he’d found the perfect stars for his new reality-TV series, “Salvage Dawgs.”

At that time, Bill hadn’t met Robert yet, but what he saw on the tape convinced him that he was a star. The executive producer said that the Black Dog Salvage owners had this great dynamic chemistry that the viewers would resonate with – Mike was simply the man’s man, and Robert was the fussy and meticulous one. The owners saw endless possibilities with the exposure they would get from appearing on TV, so they were easily convinced to be part of the series.

Since the production crew would document what the BDS team would normally do on their salvage projects, it would only take a few days to complete an episode, except when the job was located out of town.

The show became a collaborative work effort between two production companies, Figure 8 Films and Trailblazer Studios. While executive producers Brenna Eckerson, Bill Hayes, Jeff Lanter and Kirk Streb acknowledged that it only found a moderate following when it debuted on TV in November 2012, they knew it wouldn’t take long for it to become a hit. True enough, America became interested not only in the salvaged architectural items that Robert and Mike saved from the buildings scheduled to be torn down but also in how they restored or repurposed them for resale to new owners.

Meet the Salvage Dawgs Team

Six people were given the tasks to reclaim, reuse, repurpose and resell pieces sourced from old buildings to new owners.

Get to know the team who made Black Dog Salvage one of the most visited places in Roanoke, Virginia.

Co-Owners of Black Dog Salvage

Mike “Big Dawg” Whiteside was the man everyone in the team expected to end up bleeding during a salvage job. He would take anything and everything that he found valuable, as he left no stone unturned on their salvage projects. When he’s not out salvaging, one could find him in the warehouse creating extraordinary re-imagined pieces. His determination and perseverance developed when he was in the US Navy as a parachute rigger. He also had experience being a professional yacht captain after leaving the Navy.

Robert “Top Dawg” Kulp was the man who would almost always have a clipboard with him. He had been a Naval Officer, but graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Building Construction, which was why the team could successfully dismantle anything they wanted on any project. His knowledge of structural engineering and his keen attention to detail made it possible for them to accept multiple projects without disastrous results.

Salvage Dawgs

Robert never lost his focus on the bottom line, so he watched everything like a hawk as he’s the one responsible for calculating expenses and possible resale value to make sure they would end up with a profit.

The rest of the BDS Crew

Taylor “Tay” Whiteside was the resident metal fabricator and welder in the team. He developed his love of custom fabrication as a young kid, by watching his father, Mike, repair things in their garage. He has been part of the family business for the past 16 years as a metal fabricator, but he took different roles in the business, including social media marketing manager, tech specialist, photographer, and videographer.

Grayson Goldsmith was the first female member of the BDS crew. While she took on odd jobs in the store such as answering ‘phone calls and receiving inquiries, compiling inventories, and tracking down long-lost pieces around the huge warehouse, it didn’t mean she didn’t know how to wield the heavy tools when recovering salvageable items.

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The one thing she avoided when she joined the team was to look weak or inefficient, saying that her job at the store was a natural extension of her bachelor’s degree in Sustainable Development from Appalachian State University.

Ted Ayers was a member of a couple of bands called The Dogs and Not Even before joining the BDS crew. After the bands disbanded, the former guitarist went back to his roots at Roanoke, and was hired as the operations manager of the BDS warehouse. He has been working with the salvage team since 2009, and was fondly called “Handsome Ted” by Bill Hayes, one of the executive producers.

The BDS crew also includes Robert’s sister, Koiner Kulp Thomas, who has been part of the business since its early days, but only started appearing on “Salvage Dawgs” in 2017. They also have a resident designer and art teacher, Susan Hudson, who was included in the TV show also in 2017.

She mostly worked behind the scenes along with Jeff Ellis, who worked as the Production Manager for the Custom Design Center of the store.

Eight years with 11 seasons of “Salvage Dawgs”

They stayed on TV for 11 seasons, giving second life to the most interesting artifacts from old buildings, so that the present generation could have a glimpse of the past. Some of these cast-offs were restored to their former glory, but most of them were re-purposed into something beautiful and functional, and viewers were fascinated and inspired by how some of the vintage pieces were re-imagined. It has made Black Dog Salvage a hot spot not only for those looking for materials and ideas for their own homes, but also for high-end interior decorators who needed vintage pieces to include in their modern structures. Here are some of the best moments according to the Black Dog Salvage crew:

St. Andrews Catholic Church spires salvage job

Grayson Goldsmith shared that one of the memorable episodes she had in the show was during episode 13 from the third season – it was a personal moment for her as they worked on St. Andrews Church spires in Roanoke. Her great-grandmother came from the first generation of her Italian family who hopped onto a ship and migrated to the US. Her ‘Nonna’ would hear daily Mass in the church, and it was just fitting that her great-granddaughter was part of saving some of the copper elements from the historic structure.

Busted Volkswagen Bus to a Salvage Dawg flatbed truck

In 2014, during the first half of the third season, Tay Whiteside salvaged a dilapidated VW bus, and decided to transform it into a functional flatbed truck to be used by the store. He even brainstormed with his dad Mike, to ensure that he had everything covered.

Tay said that the project took much from him as it was a complete rebuild of the framework, but as a metal fabricator, the challenge was all worth it when he finished the project. The truck could still be found around the warehouse, and fans loved to take pictures with it when they visited the store.

The attack of the bees while dismantling the Eiffel Tower replica

During the second season, they were notified that a 40-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower in Columbia, Ohio, was to be demolished, and the crew was up to the challenge, even if they didn’t have any experience tearing down a tower like that. Ted Ayers was part of dismantling the tower, but he never imagined that it had a nest of yellow jacket bees hidden in some parts of the structure. Unfortunately, Ted was highly allergic to any type of bee, but for some reason he was the resident bee killer in the team. He said it was funny that he had a bee spray on his left hand while continuing to dismantle with his right hand. Some viewers thought that what he killed were honey bees and were angry about it, but Ted and the TV show stated that it was a different kind of bee, saying that they knew never to kill honey bees.

Robert and Mike’s unforgettable moments

It was hard for the founders of the business to pinpoint a certain episode, but Robert said that there were unforgettable moments that brought laughter, tears, and apprehension. ‘Thinking back, my favorite show was when I was busting off big huge brackets on a house up in Northern Virginia, and a rock let loose and hit Mike right in the head.’ Mike, on the other hand, said that it was the time when they went to Mt. Vernon, Ohio; there was a fire and they salvaged what they could from the property. The family who owned it was quite grateful that the “Salvage Dawgs” team was there to save some pieces of their history.

The cancelation of “Salvage Dawgs”

When the TV show “Salvage Dawgs,” didn’t return for a 12th season, fans initially thought that it was due to movement restrictions and health protocols brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, as it was also the official reason that the TV producers gave the viewers. However, in 2021, the DIY network announced that they would be replaced by the Magnolia network owned by Chip and Joanne Gaines by January 2022.

Salvage Dawgs

Fans of DIY’s reality-TV shows were concerned that their favorite shows would be canceled during the transition, and true enough “Salvage Dawgs” no longer has a home. Robert said that when they started the TV show, they never thought they would last for 11 seasons. He said that it was never about the money, but had always been to promote national brand awareness. He and Mike were glad that in their own way they’d also provided more jobs to the local community. With the popularity of the TV show, they had somehow given people around the world another reason to visit Roanoke, Virginia.

Black Dog Salvage will continue what they have been doing since 1999, and even without being in the spotlight brought by “Salvage Dawgs,” they’d already established partnerships with reputable companies for their new projects. They have a new line of furniture called Texture, and a new paint line called Reclaim. Robert and Mike said that they were committed to creating American products, which were both reproducible and sustainable.

While “Salvage Dawgs” took its final bow on 30 January 2020, people who haven’t watched it yet can still access the whole 11 seasons online – there were 143 episodes produced since 2012. The Black Dog Salvage owners said they didn’t have any regrets about doing the show, as it exceeded their expectations.

Devoted fans can see their favorite reality-TV stars up close and personal when they visit Roanoke. Aside from the main retail showroom, clients can also go around their second warehouse called BDS2 located a mile away, along with a huge outdoor salvage yard. Since then, the store has been open for business Mondays through Saturdays from 9 am to 5 pm and 11 am to 4 pm during Sundays, except that their salvage warehouse can be accessed by appointment only. They can spend more days looking for items inside the warehouse by choosing to stay in the company’s renovated guest house called Stone House; it’s the perfect way to enjoy the whole “Salvage Dawgs” experience, as it was built in 1911 and regarded as their ultimate showroom for architectural salvage-inspired design.

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