|Russell Horns, a former Mattel designer, and Leo Hauser came together a decade ago when both worked for a now-defunct St. Louis giftmaker. Hornsby was head of the creative group, Hauser in charge of sales. Both were making about $300,000 a year, yet unfulfilled. "We were just feeling hemmed in," Hornsby recalled. "There wasn't any voice in the company."
They started Trendmasters out of Hornsby's basement, hitting it big at first with Loony Heads -- faces that burped or screamed on command. They've also found success with a line of realistic-looking Halloween pumpkins, which have sold 4 million, and the Star Castle line for girls, with sales of more than 16 million toys.
Trendmasters now operates out of a nondescript, gray building in a rundown section of downtown. But inside is a hip, red-bricked office buzzing with mostly 20-something workers. The company does everything here except make the toys. In one room, a handful of video technicians put the finishing touches on TV commercials. In another, workers develop CD-ROM games. Designers and sculptors work over prototypes that won't be released until well into 1999. "We are a nonformula-based company," Hornsby said. "Our job is to give the kids magic."