Seamus, our General Manager, was talking to me yesterday about the problems we have fixing ceramic tap valves. Most modern taps use ceramic quarter-turn valves instead of rubber washers. Ceramic quarter-turn valves last much longer than rubber washers, and the taps are much more pleasant to use as you only have to twist the handle a quarter turn to get full flow, rather than screwing it around and around like an old-fashioned tap.
But when a ceramic valve tap plays up, it is a mission to fix. The quickest (and therefore cheapest for the customer) solution is to replace the valve. But few valves are the same, so you have to identify and supply a matching valve. If you know the manufacturer's name, and even better the tap name or model number, it is easy. But how many people know who made their taps? Not many.
Plumbers merchants seem to hold only the slimmest range of replacement valves, and in our experience we can only source a matching valve from someone's stock in about 50% of jobs. How do we deal with the other 50%? Our handyman zaps a photo over to the office, and Seamus uses Google Image search to find one that looks to have the right parameters and we order a few in.
So we can usually do it, but I have to say it is never very convenient for the customer, often requiring two separate visits (just to fix a tap!). A rubber washer tap would rarely take more than half-an-hour to fix, if that. But it can easily cost £100 to source and replace a ceramic tap valve, and you can buy a very nice brand new quarter-turn tap for that.
Of course a specialist plumber with a van full of spares might be able to solve this problem more easily, if they keep a large stock of different tap valves in their van. But if plumbers merchants don't even keep a wide range, seems unlikely that a plumber would. I would be interested to know.
Our aim is to identify a set of valves which will cover 100% of replacements. For a while Seamus had thought that three particular ceramic valves would cover all eventualities, but it had just been lucky that those three worked in a long run of tap-fixing-jobs. We soon found a whole load of taps for which our magic range of three valves didn't work. He now has a range of 10 different valves which, since a renewed effort to solve this problem, have worked in all cases.
Still, having every handyman carry even just 10 different valves around is not very efficient. Each handyman probably only does one tap job every couple of weeks (I'm guessing here, haven't checked the stats), so it would take at least 6 months to turn over that stock of 10 valves, not very efficient from a stock-holding point of view.
(Astute readers will be thinking, why replace the valve at all? Why not just take it apart and service it, that should get it working again. Correct. But that also takes a lot of time, and if after cleaning it up (including leaving to soak in a descalant) it still doesn't work you've wasted a whole load of the customer's time. Our view is that it is better to replace to be on the safe side.)