Advertising executive James Arabanos always had innovative ideas on how to get his clients' messages in front of potential customers.
As CEO of the Twin Cities-based Trans Media Group (TMG), Arabanos was a recognized leader in the field of restroom advertising and helped it become an acceptable way of placing ads for products, services and entertainment in front of consumers' eyes.
"This was the precursor to social media, and he made the product look good," said John Koenig, executive director of the Indoor Billboard Advertising Association, which was formed in 1998 to promote the concept of placing ads in restrooms. Arabanos was its president in 2000. "He was a go-getter. He definitely brought it to the next level, and then to other avenues."
Arabanos, of Minnetonka, died in his sleep Nov. 21 at age 48.
Arabanos was born and raised in Hibbing, Minn., where he excelled in wrestling. He took his prowess on the mat to North Dakota State University in Fargo. While in school, he launched his first business by selling used carpet.
He founded AJ Indoor Advertising in 1987. It grew into what is now a division of TMG.
Beyond placing ads in bathroom stalls, Arabanos placed poster ads in clubs, restaurants, parking ramps, elevators, health clubs and stadiums in the Twin Cities and across the country. In recent years he designed campaigns to promote myTalk Radio (107.1 FM) and McCarthy Auto World.
Last summer he had the idea for offering a complementary shuttle from the Shops at West End to Target Field for Twins fans who stopped by the St. Louis Park entertainment district before the game.
"He was always thinking of different opportunities that were out there," said Michael Landstad, West End's senior property manager. "He really was a progressive businessman who thought outside the box. That is why he became so successful."
Along with his business acumen, Arabanos brought a personal touch to the table and deeply invested himself in his clients, said Len Simich, CEO of SouthWest Transit, which provides bus service in Chanhassen, Chaska and Eden Prairie. He hired Arabanos when the agency began placing advertisements inside its transit stations, on platform pillars and around SouthWest's fleet of buses.
"So many times people overpromise and underdeliver, but that was not Jim. His goal was to overdeliver," Simich said. "He was always on the go."
Industry leaders said Arabanos was passionate about the industry, had charisma and was extremely generous to charities. But most remember how he easily engaged people, many of whom became clients and some of his closest friends.
"He was more than just a business associate," said Simich, who had coffee with Arabanos the day before he died.
Said Landstad, "You could not help but befriend him."
Arabanos is survived by his wife, Andrea Strom Arabanos; three children, Lexandra and Charles Arabanos and Callahan Creech; his mother, Donna Larson; his father, Deno Arabanos; two sisters, Dena Bovitz and Meg Opacich; a brother, John Arabanos, and his former wife, Jayne Arabanos.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Wayzata Community Church, 125 E. Wayzata Blvd., Wayzata. Visitation will be held one hour before services at the church.