Van Compass was formed in 2015 by business partners Mark Hesser and Rob Peterson. Mark and Rob met while attending college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Rob was studying Manufacturing Engineering while Mark was majoring in Industrial Technology. They first met at the off-road club at Cal Poly known as the Poly Goats. One of Cal Poly’s oldest clubs, The Poly Goats is more of a fraternity for like-minded students who can’t wait till class is done for the week so they can apply their newly acquired theories and principals to truck builds and put them to the test in the dirt. Eventually Mark and Rob would work together at a small 4wd fabrication shop while finishing their degrees but we’ll get to the details of their professional career later.
Mark grew up in Fremont, California where his love for adventure and off-road fun began at an early age. From ripping around the suburban streets of San Francisco on little Honda 50s, he eventually graduated to a 1984 Toyota pickup that he would slowly transform into a full blown rock crawler for wheeling the local trails near Tahoe in the Sierra Mountains of CA. Over the years, Mark built this truck into a one ton axle equipped, propane injected trail machine on 44” Super Swamper Boggers that would be his tool for adventure. Frequenting his local trails of Fordyce Creek and the iconic Rubicon trail, this truck would wheel all over the state of CA for years until it was time to move onto other project trucks. From a built dual sport first gen 4runner to a 4wd long travel Tacoma, Mark has built and driven a plethora of off-road adventure oriented vehicles.
Rob grew up in Torrance, California where his love for adventure and off road fun also began at an early age. Growing up in a suburb of Los Angeles, the nearest open spaces were the vast deserts of Southern California. So with an inexpiable itch for off-road adventure, a Baja Bug made the most sense for a high school commuter. This loud, camouflage, rattle can painted, annoyance to the neighborhood was his introduction to German engineering and passion for off-road motorsports. Being a child of Southern California, the desert was his adult sand box and classroom on what worked and what didn’t in the off-road world. For years prior to even getting a driver’s license, Rob appreciated that shock absorbers and proper vehicle damping was the key to making vehicles work correctly.
Rob learned to weld on this little Baja bug (out of necessity because he broke the rear frame horns off the car) and his introduction and love for metal fabrication began. From there the flood gates opened; building bumpers, bed cages and long travel suspension set-ups for his high school friends that frequented the desert with him. The concrete driveway at his parent’s house slowly turned a lovely shade of rust from the metal grinding shavings of endless vehicle projects. This went on until it was time to go to college and of course pursue a career in engineering, preferably in the off-road automotive aftermarket world. Rob continued his passion for desert racing by building his grandfather’s Ford Ranger into a race truck to compete in the 1450 series of sportsman trucks while in college. Affectionately deemed “The Brown Trout”, this truck has stuck with him to this day and has provided some of the greatest peaks and deepest valleys of his life.
Through his off-road endeavors, older college friends graduating and moving into the professional engineering field, Rob was presented an opportunity to have an internship at the Edelbrock Corporation to work specifically in their shock department. Starting in 1997, Edelbrock developed and manufactured their own brand of monotube shocks. Using a patented Inertia Active System (IAS) developed by a company called Ricor; Edelbrock’s Performer IAS monotube shocks were very advanced, featuring a “soft” and “firm” circuit which would immediately switch depending on shock shaft speeds. Edelbrock also made standard monotube and coilover shocks for a number of other companies at the time; Rubicon Express, Pro Comp, CST, Eibach, BDS and Caterpillar just to name a few. Unfortunately, economic down turns and over extension of company assets forced Edelbrock to sell their shock division to Eibach around 2010. It was during his Engineering internship at Edlebrock in 2007 though where Rob really gained an understanding and appreciation for shock manufacturing and vehicle specific valving. This was the first time he got to apply both his hobby of off-road motorsports and education as a Manufacturing Engineer from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, into a professional working environment and he loved every minute of it.
After graduating college, Mark and Rob worked together at a small company called Poly Performance Manufacturing. With Mark being the Production Manager and Rob eventually becoming the Head Engineer, this company would turn into a large manufacturing company based in San Luis Obispo called Synergy MFG. Synergy specializes in high end off-road suspension and steering components for Jeep and Dodge Ram platforms. Their components are designed to allow you to wheel the hardest trails in the world on Sunday, and still drive your Jeep or Ram truck to work on Monday. They are still one of the industry leaders to this day. Mark and Rob both worked here for 8 years helping to design, develop and lay the groundwork for Synergy to become the brand it is today. With a combined 16 years of experience in the automotive aftermarket world, Mark and Rob both felt it was time for a change. Both of them felt confident in starting their own business as they helped with so much of the building of Synergy MFG.
Van Compass was formed in 2015 when Mark purchased a 2004 T1N Sprinter van with the intention of joining #vanlife revolution with his wife for a year. Little did Mark know that this decision to quit his job and build a van to travel in would turn into a full time business designing, manufacturing and selling high end suspension and armor components for the European style vans which seemed to be reviving the van life scene that was once so popular all around the world.
Upon purchasing said T1N Sprinter which was a low mileage 158” WB tall roof deemed “Tall Can”, Mark quickly realized that aftermarket support for these European vans were nearly non-existent in 2015. At this point in time, full time van life was just a dream for Mark and his wife so the van was primarily used as a mountain bike shuttle van on the weekends and the occasional weekend trip with his wife. Mark still had a full time job working as the production manager at Synergy and he knew a thing or two about making parts in the automotive aftermarket. However, with a love for off-road and a career immersed in the off-road industry, his first inclination was to make the Sprinter more capable and comfortable on dirt road adventures.
On an average work day lunch break, Mark pulled Rob aside to take a look at the Sprinter chassis to get his opinion on potential upgrades. Specifically, to get his opinion on if he could design a lift kit to fit bigger tires and if upgraded shocks could be fitted to improve the ride characteristics and stability of the big van. Together the two of them really looked at the Sprinter chassis and the emerging van life movement to see if there was a business opportunity in making these vehicles more capable, comfortable and all around more fun all while appealing to their own personal passion for off-road motorsports. Mark really had the foresight in seeing that an opportunity was right in front of them with Mercedes bringing the 4wd Sprinter to the US in 2015.
Still working full time at Synergy, Van Compass officially started as an afterhours project with a small shop space rented in Atascadero, CA to tear apart Tall Can for development of their first product. The Scout Kit, a 2.0” lift kit for the T1N Sprinter platform, which we still make to this day. After 6 months of burning the midnight oil, both Mark and Rob decided it was a good time in their life to take a risk and give Van Compass 100% of their time and focus. So VC went from a side project to their everyday job.
Insert 5 years of hard work, 100s of products invented, designed, and manufactured in house at our facility, a move to North Idaho and a bunch of friends and great employees who helped along the way. Van Compass is now one of the industry leaders in designing and manufacturing the highest quality suspension and armor components for the Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit and Ram Promaster platforms.
Our products are designed and tested to their limits on our personal vehicles and by our amazing customers which consist of global trekkers, fulltime van lifers and weekend warriors. We ship worldwide and our products have proven themselves on every continent of the globe. From the deserts of Baja, to the frigid waters of Iceland, the arid outback of Australia, anywhere you can imagine, VC parts have been there and made the adventure more enjoyable. We strive ourselves in not being salesmen, we are enthusiasts who are here to listen to your needs and help you get the most out of your #vanlife experience. We aren’t here to sell you everything in the catalog to make a buck. We make components that are built to function without compromise, fabricated with the upmost attention to detail and welded in house with precision welds by true enthusiasts so you can get out there and Van Further with VC Hardware.
Rob taking on the trail Fins and Things in Moab, UT in his personal Sprinter and VC development Sprinter.
Mark and family out exploring in his personal Van and VC development Transit near Mammoth Lakes, CA on our way down to Overland Expo West 2019.