Jaspers Plumbing - Plumbing National Championship
Joe Jaspers competes in the Plumbing National Championship. He would go on to take 3rd place.

Under 30 All-Stars of 2024

May 31, 2024
Where are the young people entering the plumbing trade? They're here! Meet three young tradesmen and hear their stories of success.

Nick Hotujec

Company: Cheddar’s Plumbing Co. LLC

Title: Owner

Age: 29 

New business owner Nick Hotujec is taking the plumbing industry by storm with hard work and purpose.

As a former drummer in a hard-core punk band to musical director at his local church, Nick Hotujec, owner, Cheddar’s Plumbing Co. LLC, Pittsburgh, is one to watch in the plumbing industry. With a one-year-old baby and an eight-month pregnant wife at home, you could say the new business owner has his hands full.

But it’s Nick’s wife, Jessica, who deserves all the flowers. Let’s face it, she is the one doing the real heavy lifting. In addition to running things at home, “My wife is my content strategist, HR department and moral support system,” says Hotujec.

In June of this year, it will have been two years since Nick made the leap to business ownership with Cheddar’s Plumbing, a full-service residential plumbing company in the Steel City.

But plumbing wasn’t even top of mind for Nick some 10 years ago when he was figuring out his own path. Nick was going to school for an Associate’s Degree in Accounting. “I just knew I wanted to own my own business one day,” says Hotujec.

Yet, the more time he was hanging around his brother-in-law—who happened to be a plumbing business owner—the light went on for Hotujec, who was really inspired by his work. But there was a caveat, Nick couldn’t work for his brother-in-law’s company; he wanted Nick to pave his own path and find employment elsewhere. And found it he did, working with a major PHVAC company in downtown Pittsburgh.

Nick began working as most have starting out in plumbing, digging holes and carrying buckets of stone—the grunt work. But Nick always knew he wanted something bigger, so time and experience was needed to get him where he needed to go. Around the same time, Nick enrolled in Associated Master Plumbers of Alleghany County (AMPAC), two nights a week for four years. After that, another two more years for his Master’s License. “I completely immersed myself in the trades,” says Hotujec.

After working for three different plumbing employers, his last was working for a good family-owned business, which, among other things, showed him how to work with lower billable hours. “I wanted to get a realistic view of how owning a business could be,” says Hotujec.

Taking in all of the on-the-job experiences, and all the while following his brother-in-law’s advice some 10 years ago, “I wanted to take all of the knowledge and add that ever-important customer relationship and hands-on customer relationship aspect,” says Hotujec.

Nick knew it was time. He put in his two-week notice, took a vacation with his wife to Myrtle Beach, and readied himself for the “storm.” The two began working on their laptops, preparing to open a plumbing business back in Pittsburgh, setting up social media pages, creating business cards, etc., and essentially pulling the ripcord on the rest of their lives.

They returned to phone calls for work, creating that positive momentum for the new business owners they were becoming. And the rest is history, or for the last two years, at least.

Mentorship & Success

Two years in, the 29-year-old stout Christian credits the Lord first and foremost for his success. “I need to check myself before the Lord before anything else. The Lord has put this on my heart.”

Secondly, “You need a strong support system, and for me that’s my wife, Jess,” says Hotujec. You know what they say? Behind every strong man, is an even stronger woman. Finally, it’s that great customer relationship that Hotujec is adamant about creating and maintaining that he believes brings him continued success.

Hotujec is quick to point out the people along the way: his wife, his brother-in-law, old bosses, social media colleagues, and even some church pastors—who are themselves business owners—but does he consider himself a mentor? “I don’t know the answer to that yet.”

But, Nick says that he has more than 100 TikTok and Instagram messages asking him about getting into the trades. I think he just answered the question. Nick believes that if you have the willingness and drive to learn and work, you can be taught the trade, and be molded into the best tradesman you can be. When asked about how to enter the trades, Hotujec says, “Go apply for a job and you will get hired. I promise.”

Challenges & Rewards

Owning your own business is not easy. For Hotujec, the challenge lies in when to turn it off. Nick says he could chase money all day and night, but realizes that being and dad and husband is priority number one. Another challenge for Hotujec is what he calls price objections, or selling his true value to clients. Enter Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey here, because the “Cheddar” is definitely worth the cheese.

As far as the reward for owning his own business, “It’s the freedom,” says Hotujec. “If I want the uniforms to look a certain way or I want a new tool … but more importantly, I can stop in the middle of the day and have lunch with my family.”

Social Media

As a single-man shop business owner, Hotujec often times looks to social media for business advice or whenever intricate plumbing problems arise. “When you work for yourself, you need an outlet, and I’ve gained some really good connections through social media.”

But to be honest, says Hotujec, there’s not a lot of uptick with business through social media. “Google and word of mouth is good for business.” But what does work is on the content creation side. Hotujec tries to post three to four videos per week, and with more than 75,000 followers on Instagram and nearly 80,000 on TikTok (@cheddarsplumbingco for both), Hotujec is getting noticed, becoming a brand ambassador for high-profile companies in the plumbing industry such as Oatey and Housecall Pro.

Hotujec reflects the mantra, “hard work pays off,” saying, “I really want to learn how to do it; I will do anything I can to learn.” Currently, Nick is imparting his knowledge and experience on his new apprentice, “I get to hang out and teach him,” says Hotujec. “I’m excited for what the next five years will bring.”

Oh, and where did he get the name for his business? “My nickname in high school was Cheddar,” says Hotujec.

“Better than McLovin, I guess,” says Hotujec.

And, in their own words —

Joe Jaspers

Company: Jaspers Plumbing, Cincinnati

Title: Project manager

Age: 28 

I started working with my dad at a young age and would always hear about a labor shortage coming to the trades. I loved working with my hands and finding the best way to pipe in a system like a puzzle. 

Coming from three generations of plumbers before me, you could say it is in my blood. With a good work ethic and incredible mentors around me, I knew I could have a bright future in construction. 

I started as a laborer when I was 12 and went full-time in the summers at 15. As soon as I graduated high school, I became a plumbing apprentice. After completing my four-year apprenticeship, I was able to run my own jobs. 

Less than a week after becoming a journeyman plumber, I was already foreman on Tiffany’s and Louis Vuitton store builds at the same mall. I would have to call my dad a dozen times a day, but through his motivation and a great relationship with the inspector, I could complete both jobs myself! 

You will never stop learning in the construction industry. The key is to do things right the first time no matter how much prep work is needed or obstacles you must overcome. 

Today, I do commercial, residential and industrial plumbing work. What I like about it is that there are new challenges every day and everywhere. In one day, I can be figuring out the most efficient venting system for a store remodel; 20 minutes later, I could be taking a sump pump apart to figure out why a residential basement is flooding. 

I make a living by helping others and being a part of building something great. It’s a very rewarding career that keeps my mind and body active. 

The next step is to take the Kentucky journeymen’s test, followed by the contractor’s test (commonly called master plumber) so I can pull permits in both states. From there, I debated getting my Indiana license or Ohio medical gas certification. 

Competing in the Plumbing National Championship last year was a little overwhelming, especially walking out on stage with a million cameras and so many people cheering in the crowd. I was there to prove my skills in the trades and learn more about them. 

Coming into the final challenge with all the same advantages and disadvantages as the others next to me creates the perfect opportunity to show plumbers everywhere what it takes to be at the top of your field. [Editor’s note: Joe finished third in the 2023 contest.]

To this day, it is one of my favorite construction memories—right up there with getting my first sticker for passing an inspection or when I called my parents to tell them I passed my contractor plumbers test. 

My future plans include running the plumbing company my dad started, building on my real estate portfolio—and starting a family with my wife!

My advice to any young people reading this—stick with it. You will have days your back can’t take any more and days where you don’t think it’s possible to fix a problem you haven’t faced before. You will solve it. 

Take advantage of graduating high school with no debt and use that income in your early years to build a foundation. Use that money to buy a starter home, start a retirement fund and invest in your future. 

More construction workers are retiring year after year rather than joining, so work hard and pay attention in your classes. Listen to the old guys and get any certification your company will pay for. Do this and you will love your job and make great money in less time than getting a four-year degree!

Declan McCarthy

Company: Nelson Mechanical Design, Vineyard Haven, MA

Title: Service Manager

Age: 18 

In the summer approaching my senior year of high school, my friend Myles had been working for his dad doing HVAC work, and I remember being interested in it. Toward the end of the summer, I was staying in Maine, and Myles had come up to visit me. He mentioned that he was going to do a work-study during his senior year. 

At my high school, we were given the opportunity to enter a work-study program, which allowed us to work two or three days a week and attend classes on the other days. Of course, being a not-so-school-oriented individual, I jumped on the opportunity. 

Once school rolled around, I started my work-study and continued it throughout my senior year. During the year, I began to really enjoy the trade and started thinking about it as an option after high school. As my senior year ended, I made plans to continue working with Nelson Mechanical Design through the summer.

Today, I'm the service manager for Nelson Mechanical Design. My job consists of scheduling work, quoting jobs, ordering parts, talking to customers and caretakers, and managing jobs and teams. I started this position late last year; I'm still learning a lot, but it's been great.

The service department I manage does a number of things: plumbing, HVAC, water treatment, geothermal, controls, maintenance, and much more. I like being able to learn different things. I also find a lot of fulfillment in my job; being able to help people when they are in need is a good feeling.

I recently finished Sheet Metal II, so I plan to continue schooling until I get my license. I want to learn as much as possible and become better at my position.

The trades are a great place and filled with a lot of great people. College isn't the only way to have a good career.

About the Author

Kelly L. Faloon | Freelance Writer/Editor

Kelly L. Faloon is a contributing editor and writer to ContractorContracting Business magazine and HPAC Engineering and principal of Faloon Editorial Services. The former editor of Plumbing & Mechanical magazine, Faloon has more than 26 years of experience in the plumbing and heating industry and more than 35 years in B2B publishing. She started a freelance writing and editing business in 2017, where she has a varied clientele.

Faloon spent 3 1/2 years at Supply House Times before joining the Plumbing & Mechanical staff in 2001. Previously, she spent nearly 10 years at CCH/Wolters Kluwer, a publishing firm specializing in business and tax law, where she wore many hats — proofreader, writer/editor for a daily tax publication, and Internal Revenue Code editor.

A native of Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula, Faloon is a journalism graduate of Michigan State University. You can reach her at [email protected].

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