Reinventing Today’s Funeral Through Innovation

by MSO

Anderson-McQueen's Legacy Café offers freshly brewed Starbucks coffee and a place to relax.

Every segment of the business world has a small group of change-agents who stand out from their peers for their innovation and willingness to adapt and change along with the needs of their clients. .

The funeral industry (which serves nearly seven thousand family each day across North America) is no different from other sectors of the economy in this respect, and although this specialized service industry has been built around established traditions, even funeral professionals have their own small group of pioneers who lead through example by adapting to change and creating new paths for their peers to follow.

One of the most recognizable names in North American funeral service known for their leadership and innovation role is the McQueen family who have operated the Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home in Central Florida for sixty years, serving over fifty-thousand families in their time of need.

To prove the point that this family operated funeral service leader is a groundbreaker who is not afraid of change, they were even included in a new best-selling business book by Chris Jennings titled “The Reinventors”, which profiled a very select group of industry-leading companies that have set a new standard of excellence based on redefining themselves in their respective fields. Who would have thought that a funeral service enterprise would rank amongst some of the leading innovators in North America?

But long before Jennings’ book came out in early 2012, the McQueens had already become known as “reinventors” in an industry that had often been hesitant to embrace new ideas, usually following the same practices that had been the standard for decades. But as most funeral directors are learning in today’s rapidly evolving world, nothing stays the same forever, not even funerals as consumers are requesting different options that now include music, pictures videos and even themed life celebrations for their funeral sendoffs.

John McQueen is the President of Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home.

John McQueen is the President of Anderson McQueen Funeral Home located in St. Petersburg Florida and along with brother Bill and sister Maggi, the three siblings grew up around a very successful family funeral service that their father William F. McQueen started back in 1952 with partner John S. Anderson. In 1987 William passed away after a distinguished career spanning thirty-five years that had grown Anderson-McQueen into one of the largest single location funeral homes in the state of Florida.

Following William’s passing, his children willingly took on the role of continuing the tradition of compassionate care established by their father, and over the next few years John, Bill and Maggi witnessed the changing needs of funerals in their area and expanded Anderson-McQueen by purchasing other funeral homes in nearby communities. In 1997, recognizing the growing popularity of cremation in their area, the McQueen’s opened their Cremation Tribute Center, a dedicated, state-of-the-art facility that brought a new approach to cremation including more personalization options, which has become the hallmark of their success.

Today, John McQueen is the sole owner and oversees the family enterprise that includes six funeral homes, a crematory, one cemetery, a memorial company and a pet crematory service that offers complete death care services for families with pets, a growing movement sweeping across North America. While they may offer new services and more personal options for families, Anderson-McQueen still recognizes the benefits and importance that a gathering for a traditional funeral provides in helping with the healing process by creating a memorable, lasting legacy.

John is an affable man and an attentive listener who puts people at ease with his easy-going nature, and these personality traits certainly come in handy when he is interacting with the thousands of families that Anderson McQueen serves each year. But he is also an astute service provider who understands the key to success is a commitment to serving the needs of clients by constantly adjusting to their changing desires and wishes.

Reinvention and the evolution of funeral service is a topic McQueen cares passionately about and a subject that he regularly addresses at industry conventions where he is the featured speaker to roomfuls of funeral directors wanting to learn his methods of success.

McQueen tells funeral directors that they shouldn’t hesitate to adapt to the changing wishes of today’s funeral consumers. He also advises them that they need to embrace the new opportunities that technology including funeral home websites and social media provides to help educate pre-planning clients and at-need families on their options by communicating the message that today’s funeral professionals are open to new ideas to help personalize a funeral life celebration.

The list of innovations that Anderson-McQueen has introduced is long and the proof of their adaptability to the needs of their clients is evident from the moment a family enters their main funeral home location in St. Petersburg. Instead of a quiet and dark traditional funeral home, Anderson-McQueen’s presents a bright and airy building with lots of windows (without drapes) to let natural light fill their rooms and flat screen TVs scattered throughout their facilities that play life tribute videos with music.

A children's play area, complete with toys and video games gives children a place to be kids during a funeral.

“We want people to immediately feel at ease when a visitor enters our Life Celebration Centers at Anderson-McQueen. As soon as they walk through the door they are welcomed by the smell of freshly baked cookies and the aroma of freshly brewed Starbuck’s Coffee that we serve in our Legacy Cafés.” says McQueen. “To make sure that everyone is included in a family life celebration, we also have Children Play Centers, an area designed for our younger visitors so they can feel more comfortable. We often hear from our families and visitors that our Life Celebration Centers don’t feel like a funeral home, and that was our objective.”

Following the theme of personalization in a user-friendly environment, Anderson-McQueen Life Celebration Centers have iPod compatible stereo systems throughout their buildings so favorite music can be played in any number of areas including their Heritage Hall Chapel and they also offer video tribute production, custom printed material, memorial web pages and real time funeral webcasting for those family members and friends that are unable to personally attend the funeral.

Anderson-McQueen has also incorporated Reception Centers in each of their facilities, offering families the complete service of a gathering area where the McQueens take care of everything from ordering food to providing utensils and even handling the cleanup duties for families. They have a concierge service and even offer an outdoor courtyard complete with a grill so families can BBQ hot dogs and hamburgers and create their own tailgate-type celebration at their facilities. Clearly these are not the typical type of choices one expects to find in a funeral home.

“We believe that a funeral life celebration should be an event that affirms and reflects, and begins the healing process for families, and of course it should express the personality of the person being honored,” says McQueen who also adds, “we always encourage families to share their memories however they feel appropriate and get involved with all aspects of the funeral life celebration.”

This personal involvement even extends to Anderson-McQueen’s Cremation Tribute Center where families can say their goodbyes before the cremation in a private setting and even participate by starting the process with the simple push of a button. While this direct involvement may seem unusual to some, for certain religions and cultures it is a customary tradition for the eldest child to start the cremation process, and Anderson-McQueen provides this option.

Anderson-McQueen is also leading the way as the first funeral home in the World to offer the newest form of cremation using an Alkali Hydrolysis process called bio-cremation or resomation which is still in its early stages of introduction, and they are  already creating quite a bit of interest amongst funeral service professionals across North America who are watching Anderson-McQueen’s progress with this innovative new method of cremation.

This new flameless, bio-cremation involves remains being placed in stainless steel pressurized vessel which is then filled with water and an alkaline-based solution and heated for two to three hours leaving only skeletal remains, similar to the traditional flame cremation process. The new bio-cremation process is considered a more environmentally friendly form of cremation due to the reduced carbon footprint it leaves and lower fuel consumption compared to traditional flame cremation.

Another of the innovative options offered by Anderson-McQueen is their very popular pet loss service is Pet Passages, a dedicated burial and cremation service for animals that even includes their Rainbow Bridge Room so that families can say their private good-byes to their pets and be present when cremation takes place.

“We understand that for many people, their pets are part of their family and when a pet passes, it can be a very difficult time for people who are suddenly faced with the loss of a cherished companion. Recognizing the importance of pets in today’s families, in 2006 we began our Pet Passages program dedicated to helping families deal with a pet’s death. We offer pickup to families and return the cremated remains within forty-eight hours and remains are even returned in a decorative urn instead of a cardboard box, which previously had been the industry standard for delivering pet ashes to families,” says McQueen.

John McQueen offers these final thoughts on the philosophy and efforts of Anderson-McQueen’s innovation and reinvention that is helping change funeral service, “We believe that every life is unique and should be celebrated in a manner that best reflects the individual’s personality and desires, from traditional ceremonies to unique celebrations that include having ashes rocketed into space for the ultimate sendoff. We have always felt that our job is to provide extraordinary, personalized opportunities to help celebrate a remarkable life lived. At Anderson-McQueen we walk the path together with our families and guide them through a very emotional time by drawing on our experience, but we are also looking ahead to see how we can make the funeral process less difficult and more personal for our families.”


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