Smart Motors: “Headhunting” used vehicles: How one Madison business is being proactive in tight vehicle market

MADISON, WI – If you’ve ever posted your resume online, you know that rush and sense of excitement when you receive an unsolicited response to it. A recruiter has somehow found you, and you might be a perfect match for a position within the representative’s company or organization. In modern slang, you’ve been headhunted, and it makes you feel like you’re someone special.

Employment headhunters are out in full force when there are positions to be filled but few qualified applicants. They scour the online job boards, searching for key words that seem promising. They then invite the presumably qualified jobseeker to apply for an open position. Can this “headhunter” model be modified and utilized by other industries? For one Madison-based business the answer is a definite YES!

It’s no secret there is a new vehicle shortage. New cars, trucks, SUVs and everything in between are in high demand, yet hard to come by, especially if a buyer is looking for immediate gratification.

So what is the consumer supposed to do when he or she needs an upgraded vehicle? One easy answer would be to invest in a quality previously owned vehicle, and yet those are not immune to the high demand and low supply economic concept either.

To help alleviate the previously owned vehicle shortage, Smart Motors in Madison has taken a proactive stance and has added T.J. Johnson as a “vehicle acquisition manager” to their team. In other words, they hired a headhunter who looks for cars instead of people to fill in the empty spaces. 

“In Smart Motors’ 113-year history, they’ve never had anyone hired as a vehicle acquisition manager before,” says Johnson, a 40-year veteran in the automotive retail industry. “But in this market, it was necessary to think outside the box, so here I am!”

Johnson points out there is a widespread misconception that if someone wants to sell their vehicle, they’re going to get the most bang for their buck if they sell it outright instead of going through a dealership.

“That just isn’t the case right now,” he says. “The market conditions are so strong at this time, people will be surprised how much their vehicle is worth to a trusted dealership like Smart Motors.” Johnson claims a thorough inspection of a vehicle can be done and an offer made in usually less than an hour.

While it would be ideal for people to simply bring in their used vehicle, Johnson can’t rely on that to keep up with demand for quality previously owned vehicles. He has had to reach out to potential sellers in ways that really haven’t been done before.

“In the past, we used to go to only go to auctions to keep our inventory up,” he says. “That’s not enough in this market.”

Given this, Johnson, like a headhunter in a tight labor market, has turned to seeking sellers via social media, email and good’ol networking.

“We have invested in some new technology giving us some insight into available inventory in the market, plus after 40 years in the business, I have a strong understanding of the types of vehicles people in the Madison-area are most likely to buy,” he says. “When I come across a vehicle we’re interested in, I reach out and explain how Smart Motors might be their best bet to getting a fair price for their vehicle with a process that is fast, easy and doesn’t require the seller to do a lot of extra work.”

Johnson says he also uses the Smart Motors’ website to locate potential sellers and followed up on referrals made by third parties. By having a page on their website specifically devoted to the ease of selling a vehicle to the dealership, it has made things simpler for car sellers. At, sellers get an instant offer on their vehicle in less than three-minutes and is based on factors such as market demand for their vehicle, the number of vehicles like theirs available in the market and the considerations made to a vehicle’s sellable condition.

“ is a great starting point for people to get a good idea of what we will offer them,” Johnson says. “But the best way to get the best price for a used vehicle is to bring ‘er in and let me assess it first-hand.”

He has also approached customers of the dealership’s service department while they’re waiting for their car to be serviced. “If I see a vehicle in to be serviced that has potential, you better believe I’m going to talk to the current owner about it,” he says.

In today’s tight automotive market, this is one way Smart Motors continues to strive to be proactive in meeting consumer demands.