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When flat is good for business

Wilkes-Barre Internet companies have attracted celebrity business.

WILKES-BARRE – Once his business flattened out it picked up for Stephen Taren.

Life-size cardboard cutouts of celebrities, athletes and politicians made at his Waller Street building have appeared across the country.

“We just did Hulk for the movie,” Taren said Wednesday in the cluttered office of the companies created to manufacture and market his one-dimensional products on the Internet.

At the request of the Democratic National Committee, LifeSizeCustomCutouts.com supplied cardboard likenesses of candidates John Edwards, and Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the primary contests. The company produced promotion pieces for the Washington Redskins. Former NFL great Mike Ditka even strikes a pose in one marketing his Kick Ass Red wine.

“We’ve done stuff for Conan O’Brien, ‘The View,’ ” Taren said of the television shows on which his cutouts appeared.

Handlers for Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain have yet to contact Taren, who joked they probably know his party affiliation.

The cutouts come in a variety of sizes and with a variety of backings and range in price from $35 to $219. Taren has invested approximately $200,000 in a flat bed digital printer and a computer numerical control router that’s reduced the cutting time to approximately 14 minutes from the 90 minutes it used to take with a hand router. Sales range between $8,000 and $10,000 a week for the nearly dozen Taren-owned Internet companies that rely upon the machines for their products.

The idea to create the cutouts grew out of Taren’s search for a way to expand beyond his screen printing and embroidery business, Wet Paint T-Shirts Inc. He wanted to do something with a national reach, he said.

“I started a sign company, AutoGraphiX.”

From there he added cutouts and vinyl decals that included animals, cartoon characters and historical figures, among others. Four new sites will be up next year.

He described his lifesizelegends.com line as “cool dead people” such as Eugene O’Neill, Immanuel Kant, Rene Descartes whose images are in the public domain and readily available.

“Is there a big need for philosophers and writers? I don’t know,” he mused.

It took some time to figure out how to get his sites noticed. Type in the words “lifesize cutouts” for a Google search and it produces 43,900 results. Taren has been able to secure the top spot for the LifeSizeCustomCutouts company, giving it a coveted place on the first page of listings.

Not one to let a good thing pass him by, Taren created his own search engine optimization service, InvertedGravity.com.

“It’s a company that helps other companies get to the first page,” he said.

His Web sites have been averaging about 1,500 hits a day. His companies have grown as well, employing 12 people who earn a decent wage, receive health benefits and vacation time, he said.

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