by Talbot Boggs
Photos by Jim Kitagawa
Jim Kitagawa, owner of Pharmasave pharmacy in Brooks, AB, credits his success and that of his pharmacy to the opportunity to be independent and entrepreneurial within the Pharmasave network of pharmacies.
Kitagawa graduated from the University of Alberta pharmacy program in 1983. He moved to Brooks and went to work at Brooks Plaza Drug Mart as a staff member but soon was being mentored by the owner at that time who, Kitagawa says, had a keen ideal of what the business should be.
“We were one of two pharmacies in the community at that time and became the first to join the Alberta Pharmasave group in the late 1980s when the national Pharmasave program began,” Kitagawa says. “One of the main reasons for the success of the pharmacy and Pharmasave, I believe, is based on the principles of independence and flexibility – you have the freedom to start something on your own and develop it. The entrepreneurial spirit is part of the Pharmasave brand.”
Throughout his career, Kitagawa’s main interest has been to help people in the community improve their health and wellness. He developed a large compounding business from a 250 sq. ft. lab equipped with automated non-sterile compounding devices such as EMP, flow hood for steriles, ointment mill, capsule machine and other devices, and specializing in all non-sterile compounds, especially bio-identical hormones, pain control topicals and some veterinarian compounds.
Kitagawa made a special study of natural health products, including metagenics, and women’s health, incorporating them into a practice specializing in helping people lose weight and improve their overall health through diet, stress management and exercise.
He introduced Ideal Protein into the pharmacy. The program, which featured some 100 different food products and weekly coaching sessions for patients, grew from an initial base of 80 to 500 dieters over the course of several years and later was introduced into other Pharmasave pharmacies in Alberta.
In 2010 the pharmacy moved into a new store located in a medical clinic. In the next few years Kitagawa felt the need to “niche” himself to compensate for a decline in his compounding practice. Kitagawa decided to focus his efforts instead on providing the full scope of pharmacy practice in the province, developing his home healthcare and lifestyle offerings and becoming qualified to start a travel medicine clinic to serve the aging baby boomer population.
He has expanded the homecare section to include bath and toilet aids including grabs bars, walkers including battery-powered scooters, wheelchairs, canes, crutches and daily homecare items like food utensils, cups and arthritic handle devices. “I also have expanded all our acute/sport injury braces such ankle, knee, elbow and shoulder immobilizers, plantar fasciitis sleeves and stockings, and a full-line of Sigvaris support stockings with a fitting room,” he says.
Kitagawa has partnered with nutraceutical company Xymogen Laboratories to develop and sell 10 vitamins and supplements under his own private-label brand, Jimmy’s Naturals, and actively shares his expertise and knowledge with the local community. Known in the area as the “Natural Pharmacist,” he answers questions on health-related subjects on ads on the local radio station called “Ask the Expert” and has assisted in a University of Alberta Pharmacy program to get people to incorporate healthy choices into their lifestyle by recruiting and monitoring patients and helping them to quit smoking and lose weight.
“For me it’s important to take every opportunity to help patients by providing exceptional services and products,” Kitagawa says. “Pharmasave provides an environment which lets you do just that.”
Jim Kitigawa’s top secrets of success:
#1 Be open to new services. Don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone with new areas of interest that may appeal to your patients and add new ones.
#2. Practise to your full scope. More and more provinces are allowing pharmacists to provide services previously unavailable to them.
#3. Look for strategic partnerships. Sometimes partnering with unlikely businesses can yield great results.