One -- Persistent -- Man Shop

What began as a “hobby gone wild” has become a profitable niche business for one plumbing and heating troubleshooter, James Johnson.

A friend's nickname for him - The Nautman, for his tenacity - and his fascination with fish and fossils lead him to design a unique logo and license plate for his one-man shop, Nautilus Plumbing & Heating. The featured creature: the chambered nautilus, which lived more than 450 million years ago.

“I guess its survival and longevity gave me the inspiration to use it as my company's good luck charm,” Johnson says. “If it can survive that long, then so can I.”

Displayed prominently on Johnson's Chevy Express Van, the porthole with flames and waves visually sets off the business that Johnson has run since 1989. As a heating and plumbing troubleshooter and service expert, Johnson fills a niche in the Boulder, Colo., area where hydronic and intricate plumbing and radiant systems abound.

“Sometimes I'm called in to find solutions to problem heating areas of a home,” Johnson explains. Other times he's the middleman between a contractor and customer when a system or project's gone awry. “I'm usually the last step in a project's completion, so the Nautilus name fits there, too: Not-til-us.”

Driving in the mountainous terrain of Colorado can take its toll on a one-man shop vehicle. But Johnson is happy he recently upgraded from a Chevy Astro van to his new Express.

“It allows me to keep a larger stock so I can take care of a sewer or water heater job in the same day,” Johnson says. He used American Van to customize his floor plan of under-drawers and storage options. And the vehicle's three-port power system in the cab allows him to multitask and supply power to tools and phones without constantly unplugging, which is important for small shops like his.

“The all-wheel drive is excellent for this environment, too,” admits Johnson, who knows the pain of driving up and down a mountain for supplies in winds that can easily reach 70 mph.

While Nautilus Plumbing & Heating doesn't advertise and relies on word-of-mouth referrals, it has yet to have a slow year. And The Nautman is far from giving up his one-man status.

Johnson's advice for others going it alone: Know your limitations.

“I don't have to do everything,” Johnson offers. “If it's bigger than me, I'll have someone else do it. I only do what's within my bounds.”