At a Watch Retailer’s Helm During an Era of Change

STOCKHOLM — Charlotta Eriksson remembers sitting in a company meeting, waiting for her boss to make the big announcement — that she would become chief executive at age 31 of one of Scandinavia’s foremost luxury watch retailers and servicer of timepieces.

But how would her co-workers — the overwhelming majority of them men — react to a relatively young woman taking the helm of Nymans Ur 1851, a family-owned company with a long history and close ties to Rolex, one of the world’s most prominent watch brands?

And would she be respected as chief executive in a traditionally male-dominated industry?

“I thought I was going to be questioned with my age, with my being female and all these issues,” said Ms. Eriksson, now 40 and a mother of two. “I had sort of a worst-case scenario picture in my head; like, ‘Maybe they are not going to be so happy.’ ”

To her surprise — and relief — the room erupted in cheers at the news, she said.

Now, she is steering a company of 65 employees with an average annual turnover in recent years of roughly 485 million kronor, or about $49.7 million, selling more than 6,000 watches and servicing more than 7,000 in a typical year, the company said.

Having worked as a salesperson, marketing executive and then vice president, she was a natural and ideal fit for the role of chief, the Nymans Ur owner, Olof Larsson, wrote in an email.

“She has earned my trust during all these years in the company, starting from the ground and working herself up with hard work and a brilliant mind for organization skills and amazing entrepreneurial skills,” he wrote.

Mr. Larsson’s father, Goran, bought the company in 1968, although it has its roots in Johan Fredrik Carlson, a watchmaker who, in 1851, started a business in Vasteras, about 60 miles west of Stockholm. (The city is also hometown to the clothing retailer H&M.)

The company has a store in Vasteras to this day and two in Stockholm, one of which operates under the name Krons. The company said it does a robust trade in Rolex models as an official dealer of the brand, and Rolex considers it “one of the most important and historic Rolex retailers in Northern Europe,” the head of public relations for Rolex, Virginie Chevailler-de Meuron, wrote in an email.

Also in Vasteras is the main Nymans Ur service facility, which employs 13 full-time watchmakers and is regarded as the most state-of-the-art in Scandinavia, Kristian Haagen, a watch consultant and writer who covers the industry for Vogue Scandinavia, said in an email.

“Nymans Ur is indeed a highly important player in the region,” he wrote. “Being an official Rolex retailer, you have to be up-to-date, which could indeed justify the service center being the most extensive and modern of its kind.”

While Ms. Eriksson said she had encountered some sexism in the industry, her biggest challenge was to steer a company through complex changes in the watch world that have shaped how customers relate to watches and how they approach the buying process.

Gone are the days, she said, of traditional purchasing behavior that finds women randomly buying timepieces for husbands or boyfriends, and men dominating the conversation when it comes to mechanical movements and technical features.

Nowadays, increasing numbers of women visit the serpentine, 1,600 square-foot Stockholm showroom armed with questions about mechanical components, and fashion-conscious men enter its doors seeking watches that look great, Ms. Eriksson said.

“People really do know a lot more about watches now. You can access information so much more easily on the internet, in comparison to even 10 years ago, and that is really driving interest,” she said. “It’s not just about the handcraft and the technical solutions anymore, but the brands, their stories, their image and so on.”

Given that buyers can easily buy high-end watches online — a trend stoked by the global pandemic — Ms. Eriksson has devoted some of her energy to restructuring the company’s retail operations, which she said were overly concerned with sales figures when she became chief.

Her strategy, she said, has been to build a team of sales representatives and managers that can field complex technical questions from customers on a range of timepieces, yet also take time to sit down with them, hear their stories and form emotional bonds with them.

“That’s like the No. 1 issue, to get that connection between humans,” said Ms. Eriksson, who originally considered a career in politics or criminology — she has degrees in both — but went on to earn a master’s in business administration (while she was vice president) from the Stockholm School of Economics.

“And then it’s also about the knowledge of the product and how it is transferred to the customer,” she said. “Some people really enjoy hearing about a watch’s history; some people just want to hear about the product, like, ‘Why is this hairspring made of this material?’

“I think that you really need to give each customer an experience today; you really have to add value to customer meetings, to create the desire in clients to actually come here,” she added. “If you don’t, why should they come in to the store? Especially when they can access all the information they need online and click on the purchase button?”

That Nymans Ur seeks to create such an experience is evidenced by its softly lit showroom, whose pale walls bear museum-like display cases, and ceilings and floors in indigo blue serve to highlight the cream-colored furniture throughout.

The space has as its focal point what is known in retail as a Rolex “shop-in-shop,” an area devoted to the brand. Designed and built by Rolex in 2018, its round shape was modeled after the Rolex Oyster watch, marketed as the world’s first waterproof timepiece, released by the brand in 1926.

The rest of the showroom is devoted to several brands, among them Audemars Piguet and the Richemont brands Vacheron Constantin, Cartier and Panerai.

Ms. Eriksson becomes noticeably excited when she talks about the showroom, the buzz generated by the approximately 100 customers whom she says visit it per day, the constant hum of the espresso machine behind its stainless steel bar.

Retail, she said, will always have a special place in her heart.

And while she hesitates to call herself a watch collector, she has developed an understanding of the connection that people have with their watches — including the yellow-gold Rolex Day-Date model with a green strap that she bought for herself to mark a special occasion.

“I bought it to celebrate myself becoming C.E.O.,” she said. “I will never sell it for this reason; it’s emotional.”