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Kim Kier takes a holistic approach that allows her to evolve as a groomer and serve her clients’ skin, coat and emotional needs.




Little Barks Grooming and Boutique, Columbia, SC

OWNER: Kim Kier; WEBSITE:,; FOUNDED: 2000; AREA: 975 square feet (150 retail, 825 grooming); FACEBOOK: littlebarksboutiquesc; INSTAGRAM: littlebarksgrooming

CONTINUOUS ADAPTATION MAKES Little Barks Grooming and Boutique more than a place where dogs go to get spiffed up. Taking a holistic approach to canine wellness, Kim Kier has grown her business into a true haven that meets both their physical and emotional needs.

“We want to create a world where dogs are cared for with respect, understanding and kindness,” she says. “A groom becomes more about the dog’s experience during the service and the care they receive. A grooming salon becomes a place where skin, coat, mind, body and soul are renewed, and science-based practices are applied.”

Pursuing such lofty goals means ongoing study and professional development. Among the many certifications Kier has earned are WPA Professional Grooming Credential, AKC S.A.F.E., AKC Salon Handling, Fear Free Professional, Canine Esthetician through Christein Pearson-Sertzel, Low Stress Handling Silver through Cattledog Publishing, and Puppy Behavior Counselor through Sally J. Foote, DVM, CABC-IAABC.

Kim Kier’s Moyen Poodle gets regular pampering at Little Barks Grooming and Boutique.

Kim Kier’s Moyen Poodle gets regular pampering at Little Barks Grooming and Boutique.

Skin and Coat Health

As a certified canine esthetician, Kier knows not only what’s in dog grooming products but also how those ingredients address the increasing need for effective canine skin care.

“Itchy skin and damaged coats are very common these days,” she says. “One out of seven dogs who come to the salon have one or the other or both. We can bring them comfort without traditional oral medications.”

Kier wonders if it’s truly worse now “or maybe we’re noticing it more.” She suspects that a combination of inexpensive alcohol-based shampoos and people not realizing the importance of conditioners are adding to skin and coat issues in dogs.

That’s why Kier exclusively uses products from Iv San Bernard.

“I don’t think there’s anything better,” she says. “Their product line is specifically meant for skin and coat care. It’s just years and years of research behind every single product. There are so many shampoos on the market. I like something I can say, ‘This is backed by science.’”


In addition, Kier recommends better ways to handle any messy — or miserable — situations. For example, rather than relying on shampoos alone, she suggests starting with Iv San Bernard’s ozone hydrotherapy for extra-dirty dogs.

“It puts an extra oxygen molocule in the water, which induces healing and gets rid of yeast and bacteria,” Kier says. “It even has pain management benefits. Dogs usually fall asleep in the tub — we have to hold up their head.”

The ozone hydrotherapy process takes anywhere from seven to 20 minutes, so the service costs an additional $15 for shorter times and up to $25 for a longer, bubbly soak. Approximately 20 of these therapies get booked each month — that’s between $3,600 and $6,000 additional revenue in a year for Little Barks.

Freshly groomed clients pose for their holiday pictures on the salon’s photo set.

Freshly groomed clients pose for their holiday pictures on the salon’s photo set.

Emotional Wellness, Too

Kier focuses on safety first, both for the dogs and herself. That’s one reason she only takes two to five dogs a day and works as a solo groomer.

In many cases, safety also means ensuring puppies and new canine clients of all ages feel comfortable with the grooming space, tools and process. Using the strategies learned via Fear Free professional certification, such as positive reinforcement and low-stress handling, Kier offers a Puppy Prep School, a four-visit package at the discounted rate of $120, where dogs visit four consecutive weeks to enjoy short, positive experiences, such as simply walking away from their people to get love and treats from her; exploring the grooming area, including targeting equipment and hearing clippers and blow dryers for food rewards and praise; enjoying snacks and a love-fest atop the grooming table; and getting a massage-style bath.

As with all dog training, the timing and speed with which individual puppies feel comfortable with different steps in the process varies, so Kier tailors each plan to the pup.

She also offers a Fear Recovery Grooming package for dogs with prior negative grooming experiences or who feel extra anxious. That package ranges from $200 to $250 for six visits designed to ease them into a full groom. Demand remains so high for these Fear Free services that the waiting list is currently 10 dogs deep.

“Grooming does not have to be scary,” Kier says, and yet the most common question people ask is “Why can’t you … ?”

Her answer? “Your dog isn’t well prepared for our grooming service today, but we want to help you, so this is what we can do going forward.”

Kier proudly promotes that Little Barks brand treats (above) and collars (below, right) are SC Certified Products, designating they are made in the state.

Kier proudly promotes that Little Barks brand treats and collars are SC Certified Products, designating they are made in the state.

Kier estimates puppy packages represent 6% and the fear recovery packages total 2% to 3% percent of annual revenue. She enrolled 12 dogs for fear recovery packages in 2021, up from eight in 2020.

While time consuming, the packages build strong bonds and repeat business thanks to contracts where families agree to regular grooming appointments no more than four weeks apart.

“After that four-week mark,” she says, “I think that you almost have to start over. It can be four weeks and four days, and they’ve forgotten this, that or the other.”

Rather than rely on customers remembering, Kier uses forward booking to ensure people stick to the timeline.

Although Little Barks diffuses dog-calming pheromones in the space and sells calming supplements, other plans for fearful dogs may include referrals to veterinarians or veterinary behaviorists for help with anti-anxiety medications or more complex behavior treatment.

In that way, Kier feels akin to the veterinary profession with a focus on understanding and helping the whole dog, not simply giving them baths.

“I’m hoping that in my little corner of the world, that I can let some dogs know that they’re respected and there’s kindness in the shop,” she says. “We care about how they feel, and I think people appreciate that.”


Always Forward

Little Barks Grooming and Boutique started as a hand-crafted pet accessories business, which Kier jokes supports her addiction to fabric from local quilt shops. With her customizable collars, harnesses and leashes still topping retail sales, along with her house brand of limited-ingredient treats that are “great for picky eaters,” she continually moves forward with integrated products and services for canine customers.

“I think treats and wearables are a great way for grooming salons to up their everyday bottom line,” Kier says. “It does require some suggestion at checkout: ‘Do we need treats today for being such a good pup?’ They say, ‘Yes!’ Or ‘Our collar is looking a little worn, did you see this one? It would be perfect.’ And they say, ‘Yes!’”

Five More Cool Things About Little Barks Grooming and Boutique

1. BUDGET-FRIENDLY FOUNDING: Just $10,125 in savings and Kier’s DIY and thrifting talents transformed a European grocery store into the salon and boutique in 2012.

2. NIMBLE ATTITUDE: Kier says, “In the pet industry, you have to adapt almost every day.” Example? The explosion of Doodles that rocked the grooming world with “very complicated coats,” which take much longer to do right. To meet this need and properly price services, she asks more questions about these dogs in advance and prepares more detailed estimates.

3. BLACK WALLS: After the original pink walls showed every hair and speck of dirt, Kier went with black to be “modern and clean and memorable.”


4. 70/30 RETAIL MIX: Little Barks mostly sells its own lines of hand-crafted accessories and treats, but Kier focuses on products made in the U.S. and by female-owned companies for the rest such as top seller Bare Bites single-ingredient liver treats, cricket and grub treats from Jiminy’s and nosework/treat mats from Puppia. She even has sample-size bags of Bare Bites to send home for free with grooming customers. “The dogs usually tell Mom and Dad they love them and want more,” Kier says.

5. referrals: Veterinarians and clients send Little Barks 85% of its business. “Be the best you, be kind, and people will notice and tell a friend,” she says, adding that the other 15% of new clients make their way to the salon after seeing her fun and informative daily posts on social media.




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