Reprinted from Furniture Today | Written by – December 8, 2015
ROANOKE, Va. — The owners of Black Dog Salvage and stars of DIY Network’s “Salvage Dawgs,” have developed a furniture line tied to their architectural salvage business.
If all goes well, owners Mike Whiteside and Robert Kulp plan to use their newfound celebrity to build a following for the product at their own retail stores, online and eventually at other furniture stores in the country.
The initial “Salvage Inspired-By” line includes about 100 SKUs of moderately priced furniture and accessories, produced overseas from primarily salvaged materials.
More on that to follow, but first a little background: Whiteside and Kulp started Roanoke, Va.- based Black Dog Salvage about 16 years ago. It’s an architectural salvage business that sells salvaged materials saved from old and historic properties, as well as upcycled new furniture and accent items made from that salvage.
As Kulp told Furniture/Today, Whiteside is the creative force behind Black Dog, with “a great eye for furniture, a great design eye.”
“We’ve been able to give new life to these architectural objects by turning them into furniture,” he said.
Tables made from the salvaged materials typically run between $2,000 and $4,000, coffee tables in the neighborhood of $800 to $2,000. But the price tags can go much higher, Whiteside said, noting that the company just sold a bar for a hotel for nearly $70,000.
A few years ago, a friend in the television production business approached Whiteside about doing a reality show based on the business. The idea was not just a show featuring men salvaging with heavy machinery, but one that told the whole story — from the history of the properties to the salvage operation to the workshop and “final reveal” showing how the materials were reused to create something new.
“We’re putting the ‘real’ back in reality TV,” Whiteside said, adding that there’s no real acting involved. The personalities viewers see on-screen are the same in person at the store or workshop. With that mission, “Salvage Dawgs” was born on Scripps Network’s DIY channel three years ago. It’s now in its sixth season. (Two seasons of episodes filmed each year.)
“It’s not a guy show,” Kulp said. “It’s a family … everybody show, a furniture show, an architectural salvage show.” And it has led to an “avalanche of people” visiting the main Black Dog Salvage retail store in Roanoke — about 30,000 square feet of interior selling space plus two acres outside for display.
On a typical Saturday, the store sees anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 visitors, Whiteside said.
The company also opened a satellite store earlier this year in Sulphur Springs, W.Va., and has a warehouse in Roanoke where it initially stores and records all the materials it’s bringing in.
“Salvage Dawgs” airs on other Scripps networks, too, including Great American Country, HGTV and the Travel Channel. Whiteside and Kulp now have fans as far away as Great Britain and New Zealand.
Kulp said he doesn’t watch much television or keep track of the when the show comes on, but he can tell just by the spikes in online sales.
The show hit its largest audience to date July 14 with 1.2 million viewers.
Now, with this new exposure but limited in-house workshop capacity, Black Dog has developed a line of what it calls “Salvaged Inspired-By” items based on items built on the show that it’s having produced overseas — currently in India.
Among the popular salvage inspired items is a record album cover table made of wood, iron and glass that comes straight out of one of the shows — in this case a design created by Whiteside’s son. The original pieces sold for $475 and the salvage-inspired version is retailing for $375, Beane said.To do this, Whiteside and Kulp connected with new minority equity partners Brian Beane and Fred Schubert, partners in Widget Design and Sourcing, the exclusive vendor for all the imported product Black Dog Salvage will sell in its stores, online and to “potential retailers/etailers as we build the brand,” Beane said.
Widget Design, he said, is working closely with Black Dog to mirror the original “concept of taking salvaged materials and making them into saleable furniture. The items include small case goods, accessories and occasional furniture.”
One of the more expensive products in the new line is an entertainment étagère originally designed from a salvaged five-panel door. The complete media wall with two ends and a center unit that can hold a 70-inch television retails as a package for $2,799 (with the ends each priced at $799).
“We’re making 10 of these at a time, even if it’s overseas,” said Widget Design’s Fred Schubert of the inspired line. “It’s still handmade furniture — mostly reclaimed. It’s not production.”
Whiteside emphasized that the company’s mission is not changing with the new line. “We are a salvage company,” he said. “There’s no reason why we can’t source salvage worldwide.”
Black Dog Salvage will continue using its own shop, and local vendors to produce furniture that retails on the floor too, including bench-made “custom-build” requests the company receives. Widget is working to secure additional domestic sourcing for custom-built work and also is looking at export opportunities for the product as well, given the show’s international following.
It’s also revamping its main showroom for an updated look to showcase the new line and the company’s other products.
Beane noted that the items chosen for the overseas line all are inspired by designs featured on “Salvage Dawgs” and carry the Black Dog Salvage label, typically branded into the item. They are engineered to be shipped more cost effectively than many of the larger items Black Dog sells. The company has contracted with BlueGrace Logistics to handle deliveries.
He characterized the new line as “authentic products produced by authentic people.” And it’s this whole aura of authenticity surrounding Whiteside, Kulp, Black Dog and the show that makes Beane and Schubert certain they have a hit on their hands.
“Because the show is a family show, and they have a special vibe, this branding can go a long way, more than any other kind of branding we’ve ever worked with,” Schubert said.
The owners said they would be happy to see the new line lead to $5 million to $10 million in additional sales in the first year.
Kulp said Black Dog Salvage will do about $3 million in sales this year — a large increase from where it was before the television show aired. The owners said they would be happy to see the new line lead to $5 million to $10 million in additional sales in the first year. Beane added that he’s also shooting for 35% of that to come from online sales.
Eventually the company expects to open up the Black Dog Salvage brand to other retailers. It’s aiming to exhibit during a High Point Market some time in 2017.
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