|Some smart maneuvering from Trendmasters' founders Leo Hauser and Russell Hornsby helped the 9-year-old toymaker win rights to "Godzilla" and "Lost in Space," which are due out this spring. When no one was thinking of "Godzilla" in the early 1990s, Trendmasters was awarded its licensing. Now, as the city-stomping beast comes to theaters nationwide in a $90 million special-effects thriller by Sony, toys by Trendmasters will hit store shelves. Same was true with "Lost in Space," a remake of the campy '60s television show. Among the toys linked to the movie will be the nearly human, bubble-headed, dryer-vent-armed robot, known from the frantic warnings to his young adventurer friend, "Danger, Will Robinson!"
"Part of being in the toy business is looking down the highway," said Hornsby. "We were in the right place at the right time." It's no accident. Since Hauser and Hornsby founded Trendmasters, the company has specialized in buying up rights to "the abused properties of Hollywood," Hornsby said. "Our job is to take them and dress them up and give them a beautiful face again."
Timing is everything for small toymakers like privately held Trendmasters, which had sales of $137 million in 1997. Industry giants like Mattel and Hasbro tend to get first dibs on the hot licenses. Trendmasters has scored by buying up properties others didn't want -- "Gumby," "Tarzan," "I Dream of Jeannie." Hauser and Hornsby took a chance on "Independence Day" at a time when the movie was considered a risk. It turned out to be a hit, and so were the toys.
The company will unveil its lineup of toys for "Godzilla" and "Lost in Space" at the American International Toy Fair in New York, which begins Monday. Among the toys will be action figures, fighter vehicles and robots. Despite lots of hype for the movies, industry observers warn that big-budget, high-expectation productions sometimes fail to live up to their image.
"If the movie bombs there's no way the toy can overcome that," Reysen said. But that doesn't discourage Hauser or Hornsby, a former Mattel designer. They are willing to experiment and look for licenses to movies that might flop.