At Cole's Salon and Spa in Burnsville, the stylists don't just rent chairs. They own them.

Doug Cole founded the company as a children's barbershop 35 years ago. But he's since transformed it into a full-service salon with $22 million in revenues and five locations that are 44 percent owned by 335 employees.

"We don't know of another ESOP [employee stock ownership plan] salon in the business. From what we know, it's pretty rare," said Chief Operating Officer Melissa Hanson, adding that scores of workers like her have been there 20 years or more.

Rarer still, each quarter Cole's issues each employee $250 to $500 to spend on health insurance, dependent care costs or 401(k) savings plans. "That's unusual. Traditionally in our industry, benefits are not available," Hanson said, adding that workers generally make $25,000 to $70,000 a year.

The assortment of benefits are just some of the reasons Cole's Salon and Spa won the No. 1 slot on the Minnesota list of 30 midsize Top Workplaces as ranked by WorkplaceDynamics. Cole's, which has two branches in Eagan and one each in Burnsville, Savage and Apple Valley, was nominated for the honor by its employees.

Other Twin Cities employers that rounded out the top five list of midsize workplaces are Right At Home in Bloomington; Pediatric Home Service in Roseville; Minneapolis ad agency Colle+McVoy, and Noran Neurological Clinic in Minneapolis.

Each of these firms has between 150 and 499 employees. Their managers look beyond sales and profits to make sure staffers feel valued, loyal and healthy, while having fun in the process, employees said in a confidential survey. Many cited great benefits, corporate philanthropy, community sponsorships and celebratory parties as unexpected perks that came with the job.

Family-owned Miller Auto Plaza — the St. Cloud-based dealership is ranked 26th on the list — is renowned for hosting Red Cross blood drives, food drives, Adopt-A-Highway cleanups and customer appreciation lunches. The events make employees "feel good about their community and themselves," said Angie Neisinger, Miller human resource manager.

At Cole's Salon, stylists and managers raise money for charities by paying for the honor of wearing jeans to work. Cole's is currently in the midst of a Locks of Love campaign. Last month a dozen stylists snipped off the ponytails of 50 high schoolers who donated the hair so cancer patients could get free wigs.

Colle+McVoy, an advertising agency in Minneapolis, also organizes charity work. But the agency believes the best office perks may come in the form of time in a masseuse's chair, pancakes cooked by the boss or pooches snoozing under a desk. This winter, the agency turned bitter weather into wicked fun. When a series of snowstorms shut down Twin Cities schools for days, management and employees converted their cafeteria into the "Polar Vortex Day Camp," with movies, games, snacks, arts-and-crafts projects and "camp counselors." The kids loved it, and the parents were relieved and had a great time at the office.

"We have numerous perks that make it fun," said Jennifer Stack, Colle+McVoy communications director. Fun is an integral part of nurturing employees and developing a creative atmosphere, she said. Admittedly, "sometimes it's hard to get work done because [the dogs] are so darn cute," Stack said. "It definitely lightens your day."

At Noran Neurological Clinic, which has six locations and 197 employees, the emphasis is on keeping workers healthy. The company subsidizes employees' gym memberships and prides itself on a benefits package that includes dental, health and disability insurance as well as matching 401(k) contributions and tuition reimbursement.

Suzanne Smith, HR manager of the Minneapolis-based clinic, has worked there since 1985. "The employee benefits are very generous. It's a very rich health-insurance plan that we offer." The benefits menu always catches the admiration of hires, she said.

Benefits aside, Noran also relies on fun to stimulate employees. On "jersey days," managers bring in peanuts, popcorn and hot dogs and encourage everyone to wear their favorite Minnesota sports jersey. On May 28, Noran's 21 owners took the entire company to a Twins game.

It's those little things that made Smith stay at Noran all these years. "It's just the general feeling of respect and appreciation that is shown here. And you don't hear that very often [at other firms]," she said.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725