Fresh out of school at Washington State University, Kirk Heinz — of Kirk's Pharmacy fame — began working for Colton's Pharmacy in 1986, a store that had roots dating back to the Eatonville of 1909.

"I knew I wanted to live in a small town, and I knew I eventually wanted to own my own store," Heinz said. "So that's the only positions that I applied for. So I started working for the previous owners, which were Skip and Ava Colton, in '86, and then I bought the store in 1995. I changed the name to Kirk's Pharmacy."

In about 2009, Heinz opened a second location, this one in Puyallup, to be followed by another location in the same city. Then, a year and a half ago, Kirk's Pharmacy needed to remodel all of its compounding space.

"We chose to purchase the Columbia Bank building in downtown Puyallup, remodel that space into our compounding lab, so now all of our compounding is done out of that area."

Heinz said that his pharmacies provide plenty of services that many people aren't aware of, like diabetic shoes, immunizations and travel vaccines, but it's the company's ability to do compounding that really sets it apart, other than customer service, of course.

He said that most manufacturers now make pills, creams or ointments that come from the manufacturer all prepackaged in a box. While his pharmacies do the basic medication counseling for these products, they aren't making anything new. But in the practice of compounding, they are creating new forms of existing medications for clients.

"With compounding, let's say that you need a dose that's physically not made by a manufacturer anywhere," Heinz said. "So we reformulate it, whether it be into another cream, into a suppository, into a suspension and fit the dose that you need. Or maybe your baby needs a dose of 1 mg and it's only available in 100. So we can either take the tables and capsules and reformulate them into a liquid, or we get the active ingredient in the powder and make our own."

Compounding makes it possible to have a medicine that would have been a pill, but becomes an ointment that can be used to treat a cat by rubbing a Kirk's Pharmacy tincture in the feline's ear to avoid the harrowing pursuit of getting said cat to swallow a pill.

Very few chain pharmacies, if any, do compounding, and only about six or seven other locally-owned pharmacies in Washington state practice the discipline, he said.

Kirk's even does sterile compounding for medicines like eye drops.

In addition, Kirk's provides strip packaging that doles out the morning doses, noon doses, dinner doses, nighttime doses of all of the patient's medicines in a small package for each time of the day, given to them in a strip for the whole month. This ensures that people have the most effective and accurate benefits from their medicines.

Above all, though, Heinz said that his company values customer service most.

"Nowadays, with almost everyone having insurance, the copay is going to be very similar or exactly the same wherever you go," he said. "We pride ourselves in taking care of our patients, treating them like family, filling their medications in a very quick fashion. We have patients driving from Morton, from Graham, from Yelm, because we can fill their things in a quick fashion. We recognize them when they walk in. A lot of times I have their medicines in my hand when they walk to the counter. We look at the interactions between all of their medicines."

Finally, the company takes customer service one step further by offering a relatively new service.

"We are doing now what's called a comprehensive medicine reviews where we sit down with them and they bring all their medicines in with them, whether they get some mail-order some from us, and we review all of them with them to make sure that they're not taking any duplications, that everything's interacting (properly)," Heinz said.