Thomas & Betts Corp. (T&B), Memphis, Tenn., entered a definitive agreement to acquire Ocal, Inc., Van Nuys, Calif., for approximately $20.3 million.

Ocal manufactures PVC-coated conduit and components at a plant in Mobile, Ala., where it employs 175 people and posted sales in 1997 of $24 million.

The acquisition is part of a move by T&B into conduit bodies and hazardous-location fittings, a product category the company has been building internally for about a year, ever since the creation of EGS Electrical Group, Chicago, Ill., brought together two of the major players in that business, limiting acquisition candidates, according to Neil Parker, president of T&B's electrical components group.

The chance to acquire Ocal lets T&B expand on the conduit side, Parker said. "We've known Ocal because we've supplied product to Ocal in the fittings area, which they coat and sell as hazardous-location fittings," he said. "It seemed to us it was a good extension of our strategic push to get into the conduit body and hazardous-location fittings."

If the acquisition is completed, Ilan Bender, founder, chairman and CEO of Ocal, will stay with the company in a consulting capacity, Parker says.

Ocal will join the industrial side of T&B's electrical components group, Parker said. T&B will continue using Ocal's representation network and will continue using the Ocal name, at least in the short term, says Parker.