"That really has, I think, just forced more innovation, more calling around or scouring Facebook Marketplace," Manzi said. "Dealers are really having to get creative with how they're sourcing right now."
Dealerships also are selling more efficiently with fewer employees, Manzi said. Dealership head count dipped slightly in 2021 after tumbling more steeply in 2020 when the pandemic started. Total dealership employment slid 2.1 percent to an estimated 1,055,400 people last year, down from 1,078,000 for 2020 and 1,134,400 for 2019, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data cited by NADA.
The average dealership had 63 employees in 2021, generally flat from 64 in 2020 but down more significantly from 68 in 2019. The average number of new vehicles sold per salesperson last year rose to 113 from 104 in both 2019 and 2020, Manzi said.
"We still haven't seen nationwide dealership employment recover completely," he said. "A lot of the salespeople have learned to be a little bit more productive. I think shifting more of the sales process online might have helped contribute to that."
Manzi said he doesn't expect dealership employment to pick up until sales rates are consistently closer to 17 million vehicles annually.
Payroll costs increased significantly last year, according to NADA's report. Average annual payroll per dealership jumped 22 percent to $4.95 million in 2021, up from $4.06 million in 2020 and $4.09 million in 2019, the report said.
Manzi chalked up the increase largely to the tight labor market.
"It's just more expensive to pay people right now," he said. "Dealers have to remain competitive, as well. And so they have to pay more to get good people."