By M.L. Dehm HBJ Freelance Writer
SNOHOMISH — It didn’t start out as a business owned by a woman but now it is owned by two. Kusler’s Pharmacy, Home and Gifts in Snohomish is an independent pharmacy with gift shop that is co-owned by Janet Kusler and Mary Pat Connors.
Janet Kusler’s father, Don, opened the business 45 years ago as a pharmacy and medical supply store. He sold the pharmacy in 1994 and in 1995 sold off the medical supply side of the business.
“His timing was perfect,” Janet Kusler said. At the time her father sold, many changes were happening in the world of health care. It was the beginning of managed care and medical supply was about to become a very competitive and capital-intensive business.
In the meantime, Kusler had become a pharmacist herself. Along with longtime friend Mary Pat Connors, Kusler owned a pharmacy in Everett called Option Care.
“It was closer to a hospital pharmacy than a retail pharmacy,” Kusler said. “Mary Pat did the business side and I did the pharmacy side.”
Kusler and Connors enjoyed Option Care but decided to sell in 1996 and then had to decide what to do next. Kusler’s father still owned the building in Snohomish. That gave them an idea.
“There were chains in town but not really a community pharmacy,” Connors said.
In 1999, they decided to reopen the old Kusler pharmacy, minus the medical supply but with their own personal spin. Connections with old customers gave them a few contracts that helped tide them over in the early days and professional contacts offered valuable advice.
“I spent some time talking to a man who owned several pharmacies in Seattle who used to work for Dad,” Kusler said. “Dad was his mentor and he was my mentor, which was nice.”
Some in-depth discussions about how to develop a successful business model for a pharmacy led to the addition of a compounding service at Kusler’s. Compounding a medication alters the drug to make it easier to administer or more palatable.
Many customers want compounding services. Pills can be transformed into lollipops or gummy treats for children. Pet owners can have pills made into liquids and flavored with fish for cats or fruit for birds. Kusler’s father came out of retirement to help run the compounding side of the pharmacy.
Another successful pharmacist that Kusler knew had added gifts to his shop. People enjoy browsing through the gifts when they come for their medications. The gift side of the business did so well that Kusler and Connors added kitchenware including wine accessories, chocolates and gourmet foods.
“The gadget wall is the most popular area in the store,” Connors said. “It’s where we usually find the pharmacy customers waiting.”
While the home and gift items really added to the business and is still a big part of the operation, it proved to be something of a liability during the first year of the recession. As the economy slowed, fewer people bought gifts and inventory remained on the shelves.
“That’s the good thing and the bad thing about being a small business,” Connors said. “The economy can be pretty challenging but on the other hand you can turn the ship around pretty fast if things aren’t doing well. You adjust your inventory and decide to do things another way.”
Neither Kusler nor Connors ever thought that their business would go under when times were hard, but it did give them a few sleepless nights. Now that things are getting better, the future is looking brighter.
“We just hired a marketing rep for our compounding business and instead of treading water we’re looking at growth again,” Kusler said.
A revamp of their website, www.kuslers.com, is nearly complete and now customers can refill prescriptions online or from mobile devices. When the prescription is ready, Kusler’s sends an email.
The pharmacy offers a program called Simplify My Meds. It’s so patients who are on multiple medications can sit down privately with the pharmacist and review their drug treatments.
“We synchronize their medicines and when the refills are due so they don’t end up coming in several times a month,” Kusler said.
The pharmacy can also create compliance packaging in bubble or blister packs that lay out the medications in the sequence the patient needs to take them during the day. It makes it easier and reduces the risk of mix ups for those who have a complex medication regimen.
Kusler’s Pharmacy continues to offer travel health consultations and needed vaccinations or medications for those travelling overseas. In addition to offering flu vaccines at the pharmacy, they will visit local companies and offer on-site flu shot clinics.
While Kusler and Connors won’t be able to expand the pharmacy due to space limitations, that hasn’t stopped them from looking into starting a new venture. They’re currently negotiating to open a wine-related store in the downtown area of Snohomish. Look for that venture in the future.
Kusler and Connors are pleased with how well Kusler’s Pharmacy has done.
“Really it’s about passion,” Kusler said. “It’s about doing what you want to do that is going to make you want to get up and go to work every day.”