Some months back, I needed to visit several well-respected HARDI distributor and manufacturer websites. I’ll refrain from identifying anyone, but I was more than mildly surprised at how lacking several seemed. Sure, it’s easy to point fingers, but when I recognized obvious faux paus … it got me churning mentally.

Then I ran into John Politsky, president of Speakeasy ( I’ve known John for a few years, and his partner, Anthony Mongeluzo, is both a close friend and a client. I’ve occasionally given John some public relations advice.

John happens to be a dynamite, clear-headed thinker on digital issues ranging from branding and design to marketing and reputation management.

I asked John if he could scrutinize the websites of 10 of the Top 50 Distributors that we featured in Distribution Center’s May 2015 issue. I asked for 10 because it would be a fair sampling (20 percent) and would be more than statistically significant, as the statisticians like to say.

I gave John a deadline of three weeks to write up the results. I should add that John’s company has NO financial connection to any of the companies on the Top 50 list.

Ladies and gentlemen, John’s report is generally unpleasant. I urge you to read his article on page 1. What’s important here is that, with several exceptions, few companies passed the test. John provides a general overview but with solid specifics about where many of these websites fall short.

There is another element worth mentioning. When John handed in the article (OK, he emailed it even though his office is 15 minutes from mine), I said, “Fine, thanks. I’ll edit it and get back to you.” Two days passed, and I finally opened the email. I couldn’t believe he did an analysis of the ENTIRE Top 50 Distributor list. Does anyone have any idea how much that would cost if we (that is, BNP or HARDI) paid for it? Let’s not forget that he has paying clients when he took on this project.

I called John on the phone and said: “John, was there a mistake, or did you really do all 50 distributors?” He replied, “I got the entire team on it, and we went after it. I decided to analyze the entire list.”

My response was an unsophisticated, “Wow. And thanks.”

Then I decided to push my luck a little further. Keep in mind that to conduct the analysis, John and his team had to individually visit every site. Also, remember that in deference to you, the wholesalers, I asked him to refrain from identifying individual companies and the websites’ shortcomings. I didn’t want my publisher, Mike Murphy, or HARDI CEO Talbot Gee to get any of those nasty phone calls because an expert criticized their website publicly.  I’ve covered this industry for a long time and don’t recall ever seeing this type of analysis.

I asked John, “Do you think that you could give a few minutes to someone from the companies on the list a no-fee, brief consultation if they wanted some feedback about their website?”

John graciously agreed. Whether you accept his general assessment of our industry’s top 50 websites, or if you regard your website as important but something that still ranks low on your business priorities, that’s your privilege.

But sometimes the first look is the most objective assessment, which I often refer to as the “cleanest look.” What this means is that you view something as it is without any preconceived ideas. For example, when I need someone to read something I’ve written, I will refrain from adding comments about the article before it is read. I want the reader to come to the story with an open view, not tainted by some prejudicial idea, suggestion or comment. (To be fair, sometimes we toy with the headline to pull you in.)

I’m writing this column on the day I’ve returned from HARDI’s Operations and Logistics conference in Baltimore. EVERYONE I spoke to said they had many takeaways and would reassess their operations in light of what they learned. The difference is that they had to pay for the privilege, and rightfully so. When it comes to your website, if you decide to take advantage of John’s generous offer, you’re going to get some great feedback at zero cost or commitment.

 In fairness, if you run into John some place, buy him a cup of coffee.  He conducted a first-rate analysis for those in the HVACR distribution business.  And even if you disagree with his assessment, it serves as a unique starting point for a further examination. Thanks, John.