Published December 18, 2013
Garage Muscle opens in Madison Heights
MADISON HEIGHTS — Ryan Spiteri, of Madison Heights, is a man of many hats. He’s a personal trainer and nutritional counselor, a self-defense instructor on a crusade against bullying, and the creator of the “Trained in Detroit” apparel line. But until now, he’s been without a central base of operations, using various gyms for his classes.
Now, the father of three has brought everything together in the town he calls home.
Garage Muscle Athletic Group had its soft opening Dec. 8. The business is located at 515 W. 11 Mile — previously a bathroom and kitchen remodeling showroom. Spiteri is also eying the next two properties in the same plaza as room for future expansion.
“There is a lot of opportunity,” Spiteri said. “And with my connections in the sports field in Michigan, I have more than enough loyalty for it to be successful. The empire vision I have is bringing everything under one roof.
“Now keep in mind, I’m not a millionaire with all the money in the world,” he said. “I’m laying everything on the line for this establishment. But I know what it’s like to grow up with nothing, so it’s a risk I’m willing to take for this facility, because I feel it’s going to do great things once it’s open.
"My parents were great people and provided me with everything needed as a child."
The move for his own place was hastened by the closure of Snap Fitness in Birmingham, where he had previously done his personal training and self-defense work. Other gyms, he said, didn’t want to accommodate his anti-bullying program, which he wanted to offer for free to kids in need of a self-confidence boost.
The program builds up inner and outer strength so that the kid feels more capable, deterring bullies without resorting to violence. Called “Spreading Positive Energy Among Kids,” or SPEAK, it’s just one of the many features offered at the new facility.
There will be a limited number of memberships, each with personal training sessions, and all under $35 a month. One-on-one and group sessions are available. Each client is treated thoroughly, with custom-tailored meal plans, full body analysis, customized cardio regimens and workout programs for off-days, access to cardio kickboxing, Zumba and other weekend programs, and access to the gym for training any day of the week.
“It’s about staying in that positive atmosphere and positive energy, with none of the uncomfortable negativity of other gyms,” Spiteri said. “People will flock to this. I have friends who are personal trainers who will come onboard with their own clients to help out the clients I bring. It will be a positive place. You’re going to feel good and look good being here.”
And SPEAK is free. Spiteri was bullied, himself, growing up and wants to help out those in similar predicaments.
“If you can build their self-confidence, building them physically and emotionally, teaching them how to control their emotions, and give them the physicality to say they can handle themselves, then you can make them realize they’re a better person and they’re one step ahead of the game,” Spiteri said. “You’ve given them hope.”
Turning his life around
His troubles with bullies aside, Spiteri had a complicated childhood, with numerous run-ins with the law all the way through high school.
After graduating from Dondero High in Royal Oak in 2000, Spiteri attended Oakland Community College, drinking at parties and working long hours at the bar.
By age 22, he got his first DUI, followed by another one mere months later. He lost his driver’s license and then violated the terms of his 12-month probation by having a glass of wine at lunch, landing him in jail, followed by boot camp.
His girlfriend, now wife, was also pregnant with their first child. His world crashing around him, Spiteri realized he needed to change his ways. This led him to follow his passion for fitness and start a career as a personal trainer.
Spiteri’s company, Garage Muscle, was born in a garage in 2007. With no car at the time, he couldn’t reach a gym to work as a personal trainer. So, he created his own training facility instead, bartering a bit and purchasing some equipment off Craigslist to assemble a gym at home.
One evening, Spiteri was talking with his wife about his business aspirations, explaining how, in the world of fitness, there are “Powerhouse guys,” “Gold’s Gym guys” and himself, a “garage muscle guy” — which is when the company name struck him.
A quick search online revealed the domain name for Garage Muscle was available for purchase, so he snatched it up right then and there. After buying the domain, a year passed before he did anything with it.
Finally, he decided to attach the name to a logo and sell athletic and workout apparel. The company currently offers T-shirts, tank tops, knit caps, polo shirts, sweatshirts, sunglasses, dog tags and more — but it was a slow journey getting there. With only $200 at the start and no knowledge of making T-shirts, Spiteri quickly found he would need to know how to use graphic design programs like Photoshop.
Luckily, a coworker at a local Coney Island gifted him the programs he required. Now it was a matter of learning the trade of graphic design. Spiteri claims he watched YouTube tutorials on the subject up to 10 hours a day for six months until he had enough knowledge to design his first T-shirt graphic.
Next up was finding a printer or person who could apply the art to a shirt. He found that screen-printing was the most popular process, so he thoroughly researched it and negotiated with more than 60 different printing companies over a two-week period.
He then ordered his first 12 T-shirts, a $125 total. He was ready to sell.
The MMA connection
His first show was a mixed martial arts (MMA) match, which cost him the remaining $75 for booth space. At this point, he literally had no money left.
He went in and was able to sell all 12 T-shirts at $25 apiece, turning a profit that was promptly reinvested in the business.
It was his company’s first success — and so it began to grow.
His products are now sold online at his website, as well as at local sporting events he sponsors, many of them MMA venues. Everything is made by small businesses in Michigan, he said; the garments are purchased from a local distributor, and the print and embroidery work is done in state.
In 2011, his brand received a boost when Lions Gate Entertainment teamed up with Garage Muscle to help promote the Hollywood film “Warrior,” which was nominated for an Academy Award. Two screenings — one VIP and one for the general public — were held at the new Emagine Theater in downtown Royal Oak.
In January 2012, Spiteri unveiled his “Trained In Detroit” brand, part of Garage Muscle LLC. The idea struck him while he was on vacation, driving his family to Mackinac City. Inspired by Chrysler’s hit “Imported from Detroit” campaign, the brand leverages people’s pride in the Motor City and can apply to anyone in metro Detroit. The brand made its debut at the Palace of Auburn Hills during a pro MMA match.
Presentation is important to Spiteri. When he sets up at venues, the clothes are all folded and wrapped to keep them neat and tidy. He also brings a red carpet like the kind used to roll out celebrities in Hollywood, complete with high-end photography lighting.
People are invited to model the clothing, and pro athletes have made appearances wearing Spiteri’s product, such as Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters Daron Cruickshank and James Lee, Bellator Fighting Championship fighters Jason Fischer and Dom O’Grady, pro bodybuilder Peter Nielsen, and Kronk pro boxer Leandre White.
The “Trained in Detroit” line is targeted at all sports, not just fighting. And it was just a crucial first step. Spiteri said he’s building his empire, slowly but surely — and the next step is establishing his own location in Madison Heights.
Jessica Dinser, a schoolteacher and Royal Oak resident, has been training with Spiteri for about a year. She set herself two goals: run a 5k by the spring and get in shape for her wedding this past August. She said she’s worked out, on and off, her whole life. She considered herself someone who was overweight when she was young; she lost some through Weight Watchers, and as an adult has struggled with losing and gaining weight.
Then she met Spiteri.
“I always found personal trainers intimidating, but I saw him at the gym one day, we started talking, and we decided to try personal training,” Dinser said. “I was apprehensive at first, but I tried a one-month regimen with him, and I really liked him, so we started three times a week. He was really flexible with the cost. And it’s not like, ‘Here’s your 60 minutes you paid for.’ He’s more like a lifestyle trainer, working with you on how you work out, what you eat and your nutrition, calling on off-days to make sure you’re keeping up, making himself available 24 hours a day. Working with him for a year, we’ve developed a relationship, and I’m never bored working out with him.
“As far as his new facility, I’m super excited about the possibilities and less interference from other trainers,” Dinser said. “Everyone in there will be training the same way, with the same goals.”
And then there’s SPEAK.
“As a teacher at a middle school, I’m concerned about bullying; I witness it and see how it affects kids,” she said. “(SPEAK) creates positive change. Spiteri is just an all-around caring guy.”
For more information about Garage Muscle LLC and the “Trained in Detroit” line, visit www.garagemuscle.com.