ROANOKE, Va. — When the owners of Black Dog Salvage first signed on to do a reality television show, they didn’t expect it would have a long run.
But Mike Whiteside and Robert Kulp figured the episodes, even if only a handful aired, would serve as commercials for their architectural salvage business and Roanoke, where their retail showroom is located.
“We figured we’d have five really good commercials. And then it picked up for another season, another season. Then it became apparent that we had something here, the chemistry between Robert and I and the rest of the crew and the format of the show really resonated,” Whiteside said.
A network’s decision to renew a show is based on ratings and revenue, he said. If “Salvage Dawgs” didn’t deliver, it would have been cancelled.
Instead, the show ran for 11 seasons, resulting in 143 episodes — “three lifetimes in the reality world,” said Christa Stephens, branding and promotions director for Black Dog Salvage.
But Whiteside and Kulp said the most recent season, which premiered on the DIY Network in November, would be the last.
After eight years of juggling the show on top of their other responsibilities, the duo was ready to wrap “Salvage Dawgs.” Plus, the DIY Network is transitioning to the Magnolia Network, meaning there’s no longer a home for the show.
While the show helped to underwrite the business, Kulp said it was never about the money. “Salvage Dawgs” was an opportunity to get Black Dog Salvage national exposure and increase brand awareness, he said. Even though the show is coming to an end, more people are sure to be introduced to the business as long as previous episodes are available via reruns or streaming services.
The show brought attention not only to Black Dog Salvage, but to Roanoke. Many episodes featured local projects, showcasing the region.
Catherine Fox, with regional tourism group Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge, said there’s no way to measure the impact “Salvage Dawgs” had on local tourism, but the fact that Black Dog appears on so many lists of top Roanoke attractions is telling.
“Whenever you have a unique and dynamic attraction like that, it starts to get the attention of visitors that might not have once looked at our area as a place to come but say, ‘Oh that’s pretty cool,’ ” she said.
When the region is promoted to journalists or prospects are being courted by economic development officials, Fox said a visit to Black Dog Salvage often appears on the agenda.
Fox said Whiteside and Kulp are great ambassadors for the region. Though they are local celebrities, they don’t act like it. Whenever she visits Black Dog Salvage, it seems the men are taking pictures with their fans.
Fox said she’s grateful for the show, which highlighted other attractions in the region and introduced the DIY Network’s audience to Roanoke.
“It really did set us apart from all other destinations because we had this very unique story to tell about not just ‘Salvage Dawgs,’ but this amazing warehouse, shopping extravaganza,” she said.
Black Dog Salvage is among Roanoke’s top attractions on Tripadvisor, just behind the Mill Mountain Star. For some, the store is the reason they make a detour in Roanoke, or travel here at all.
And those visitors stay in hotels, eat in local restaurants, shop with other retailers.
The Grandin Village Business Association expressed gratitude for the “Salvage Dawgs” show.
“As the show flourished, the employees at Black Dog sent many of their visitors to the shops and restaurants in Grandin Village. As a smaller, lesser known pocket of the city, the special ambiance of Grandin Village has been shared with a wider audience than was possible before the show,” a statement from the association reads.
Linda Steadman, owner of Too Many Books, said Black Dog Salvage draws both tourists and locals to Grandin Village.
When “Salvage Dawgs” first became popular, Steadman remembers getting a group of customers from Austin, Texas. She asked what brought them to Roanoke, and they said they’d come to see Black Dog Salvage.
It’s hard to gauge the impact of the show. Steadman said she believes tourism is growing in Roanoke in general, thanks in part to breweries and outdoor activities. Black Dog Salvage might not be the only reason someone chooses to come to Roanoke, she said, “but it’s on everybody’s list to do.”
Whiteside said he’s always been particularly amazed by the international visitors, who have come from countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia. Meanwhile, some Roanokers visit the store for the first time at the urging of out-of-town relatives who are viewers of “Salvage Dawgs.” Since the DIY Network isn’t included in basic cable packages, Kulp said some locals probably didn’t know about the show and never will.
“The people two doors down don’t know you, but the guy in California does,” he said.
The show portrayed Roanoke in a positive light. It wasn’t about crime or mean housewives. Its stars weren’t depicted as “ignorant Southerners,” Whiteside said, but instead were family-friendly, providing some education and laughs.
“We get calls from all over the country, if not the world, of people who know this area and love seeing their hometown represented that way,” Whiteside said.
Since they won’t be filming another season, Whiteside and Kulp will have more time to dedicate to the salvage business that started it all. They’re involved in two high-profile jobs in downtown Roanoke — the conversion of the Liberty Trust Building into a hotel and the renovation of the historic fire station on Church Avenue.
Kulp said both projects were featured in the last season of “Salvage Dawgs.”
“We are still here, we’re still participating locally. The Roanoke community should be very proud that something like Black Dog Salvage had the staying power and the draw to help advertise this valley,” Whiteside said. “We’re very proud of where we live.”
Casey Fabris, The Roanoke Times, The Associated Press