Joe Ambrefe '89

A slow-moving line at airport security packed with passengers waiting to dump belongings into bins hardly seems like the setting for a novel business idea.

But, in Fall 2001, Joe Ambrefe '89 was among those passengers. As a national sales director for a pharmaceutical company, he had experienced his fill of checkpoint congestion in the post-9/11 era. While most people would get impatient, Ambrefe got inspired.

"I sat down during the layover and wrote a business plan on a napkin," he said. He called childhood friend Doug Linehan and told him about an idea to marry plastic bins with ads. "We can improve this process, and at the same time, we've got a lot of focused eyeballs in this environment."

The idea evolved into SecurityPoint Media, the company responsible for the ads travelers see on the bottom of shiny white security bins in 35 major U.S. airports. Ambrefe is CEO of the Tampa, Fla.-based company, which he co-founded with Linehan.

In exchange for the right to sell ads, Ambrefe supplies free SecureTrays to the Transportation and Security Administration and replaces them every 90 days. He also installs tables to hold the trays and carts to move them around. The TSA notes that the system has resulted in fewer workers' compensation claims, and airports get a share of the ad revenue.

Advertisers include Sony, Sketchers, Zappos.com, Honda and even airline competitor Amtrak, whose playful slogans urge travelers to "Upgrade to coach" and "Wear mismatched socks--we'll never know."

"Travelers represent a great demographic," Ambrefe said, noting that frequent flyers tend to be affluent, sophisticated consumers. He added, "The one common denominator (at airports) is everybody goes through a security checkpoint."

With the slashing of ad budgets in the economic downturn--and digital video recorders making it easier to bypass traditional ads--Ambrefe said companies are looking for media that can't be avoided. And passengers don't seem to mind. "If there's good ad copy that puts a smile on your face, it humanizes the space a little bit," he said.

Ambrefe, who lives in St. Petersburg, began as a physical therapy major but became interested in business after meeting a salesman demonstrating orthotics in class. An economics professor steered him toward a health management degree.

"It's a matter of seizing the opportunities that come down the road," Ambrefe said about his decision to leave his job to start the company. "Life is not always what you think it's going to be."
 

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