It’s been argued that Michigan is undergoing the biggest economic
change since the production of automobiles first cascaded out of
Detroit plants. But Ryan Carter, 25, and Dennis Kloss, 42, are exactly the type of young
entrepreneurs the state is looking to move the economy forward.
When a 15-year-old Carter started out in business, he was an entry-level employee at the now-defunct Cayenne Grille in Mason, MI. Now, at 25, he’s the owner of that very same restaurant, and two Mid-Michigan-based fitness clubs to boot.
“I was able to make (the) leap from employee to employer with a lot of hard work, dedication and, of course, the love and support of my mother and father,” Carter says.
Carter bought the Cayenne Grille, now the Baja Grille, in July 2006 to keep his job, which would have disappeared if the restaurant closed.
After renovations—he had to gut the kitchen, put in new floors, repaint the building, add two new bathrooms and put in a new electrical system—Carter opened his doors in September 2006.
But, the restaurant wasn’t all Carter had planned for Mason and Mid-Michigan. Once he got a taste of entrepreneurship, he piled on the responsibilities. Carter and colleague, Dennis Kloss, recently opened two Snap Fitness
health clubs in Mason and Haslett. Snap Fitness is a 43-state strong franchise that gives members 24-hour access to machines and weights.
“My parents have always instilled the importance of hard work and the value of a dollar,” Carter says. “We started on food stamps and now here we are.”Working Hard, Working Harder
Owning one small business is challenging. Owning a restaurant and two franchises is even more difficult. But both are small potatoes compared to losing an arm in a life-threatening car crash.
“The accident was life changing; I won’t lie, I (still) have a lot of personal bouts,” Carter says about the Feb. 13, 2007, accident that put him in a coma for several weeks, took his arm and kept him away from work.
“You have to learn to redo everything when you have gone through that type of situation. Most people will never know because I try to always carry a big smile and some cheesy joke to make them laugh.”
Carter maintains that a strong will and a can-do spirit is the foundation of achieving great things—professionally and personally.
“When you come from a past like mine, you have to choose which route of life you want to pursue—quit and give up, or fight for what you want,” Carter says. He’s also quick to acknowledge his parents: “There is nothing John and Shannon wouldn’t do for me, and with their help, I have been able to achieve a lot of things that people my age have yet to.”
Managing a trio of establishments while coming to terms with an accident doesn’t leave much room for anything else—and that can be taxing. Carter says rest is a road less traveled, and balancing time on and off the clock is difficult.
“As sad as it is to say, I really don’t get a chance to hang out with many people,” Carter admits. “I believe it is very important that people see me at all three businesses, so I give up a lot of the fun stuff to appease everyone.”
Carter’s attitude and his work ethic inadvertently landed him a more experienced business partner in Dennis Kloss.
“Ryan is a lot like me for one thing, but a few years younger; I guess I saw a lot of me in him at his age,” Kloss says. “He always puts his customers interests ahead of his, just like me.”
Carter met Kloss, 42, just after Carter’s accident while Kloss was scoping out Mason as a possible place to open a Snap Fitness.
“However, I already had bought the rights to Mason, so the Chamber of Commerce
sent him down to talk to me,” Carter says.
After a few conversations and meetings, Kloss and Carter found they shared a lot in common when it came to business ideas and actions, including go-getter attitudes, says Carter.The Next Generation
Kloss, who grew up in the Detroit area, attests to the diversity of the different areas that Michigan offers.
“People here are more laid back and relaxed," he says, "and they seem to understand that things are not always perfect and they will generally give you a chance to succeed or at least make an attempt.”
Carter agrees that Michigan seems to ride economic waves: we may be in the trough but if we keep fighting, we can ride the crest.
“We are the only ones that can change how things are,” Carter says. “Business has slowed with gas prices constantly rising; however, I still believe we will come back,” he says.
In trying times, a little “brain drain”—the fleeing of valuable college graduates to other areas of the country—is a fact of life. Despite this, Carter remains adamant about giving Michigan a shot before trekking elsewhere.
“Michigan has bottomed out (and) the nation is just getting to where we have been,” Carter says. “Focus on the positives: labor is cheap and cost—besides gas—is down.”
These two trends, along with ambition and patience, will most likely offer the tools to succeeding in mid-Michigan as an absolute beginner. A healthy base of capable believers is all it takes.
“Most people who have actually earned their wealth start from this same spot. It will pay off—the only way to go is up,” Carter says.
As far as his assets are concerned, Carter is hopeful that his ventures will soon sprout and mature well. The “restaurant business has slowed, but I feel it will grow as summer approaches,” Carter says. “Snap is doing well,” he says, adding that neither location “has gotten to the profit part yet—but they are still babies.”
If all goes as planned, the duo might look to broaden interests.
“We have thought about maybe adding another Snap Fitness to the mix,” Kloss says. “Anything is possible with us.”
Matthew Bishop is a footy fanatic (go Arsenal!) who writes for Capital Gains Media.
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
Ryan Carter at Baja Grille
All Photographs © Dave Trumpie